Char and I are visiting friends near Philadelphia this week. Today we went into the city to see Independence Hall (it is tiny!) and the Liberty Bell. Across the top of the bell is a quotation that captures the spirit of America well, though the bell was made more than 20 years before the Declaration of Independence. The words are “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” That was the task of the great bell, especially after 1776.
The message is a quotation from the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus 25:10. It’s significance is twofold First, of course, the bell rings out a message of liberty, the song of freedom. The US stands upon a foundation of freedom and proclaims to all the world that freedom is the right of all peoples and the duty of all nations.
Just as importantly, the message is significant because it is a biblical quotation. It is fashionable in our day to discount the biblical and Judeo-Christian foundations of America. That is not because those foundations were too minor to matter but because many modern commentators are reading into early American history their own anti-Christian prejudices.
But there is it, cast in bronze and identified very clearly as a biblical quotation: Proclaim liberty to all the people of the land. Leviticus 25:10. Are we to enforce the modern prejudices of small minds by sending a bronze smith to scrape off the quote?
Even as I enjoyed reading the message of the bell, I was thinking also about a very, very sad reality: It took more than a century for the slaves to be declared free in America and a century and a half for women to be considered citizens. And for both, there remains a great deal of prejudice, making their freedom still not quite complete.
Freedom is a work in progress but at least we can be sure of its foundations: An amazing mixture of equal parts Bible and Greco-Roman ideals. We must be careful to pay no attention to those who wish to choose one of those influences over the other.