“The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences.”
After swearing in 73 new U.S. citizens at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area on Saturday, March 10, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon shared his thoughts about democracy and all of our responsibilities to the nation and each other.
The oath of citizenship you took required you to renounce your allegiance to any foreign state or sovereignty. That means you have renounced your allegiance to the government of a foreign country. You did not renounce your love or devotion to your native land or its people. You should never renounce that, and no one should tell you to do so. Cherish what you love about your former homeland.
When your native country plays in the World Cup or its athletes participate in the Olympics, cheer for them. Some of my ancestors come from Scotland, England and the Ukraine, and I root for them during the World Cup, except when they’re playing against the U.S. You should cheer for the Americans as well, but do not give up your love of your native country.
Cherish your heritage and culture. Share it with our children and grandchildren. Teach them about your native land, its language and its culture. The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences.
As a United States citizen, you have the right and the duty to vote, to participate in the political process, to serve on a jury. Too many of our citizens take those rights for granted because they don’t realize that in many countries the citizens don’t have those rights. Remind people about that. Work to make the United States the country that you hoped for when you came here, and the country you want it to continue to be.
Because I’m a judge, let me focus on jury service. People often try to get out of jury duty. They don’t realize that jury service is a vital part of our democracy. People have their voices heard by voting and participating in the political process. But they also have their voices heard by participating on juries and making decisions about other citizens.
A famous English judge said: “Where the jury sits, there burns the lamp of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson once said: “The jury is the greatest anchor ever devised by human kind for holding a government to the principles of the Constitution.” I agree with those comments. I urge you to participate in our democracy by serving on a jury.
As a citizen, you also have the right to criticize the government. You have the right to say that Congress should allocate more resources to protecting and making available great natural resources like this one (at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area). You have the right to disagree with the President’s policies. You have the right to say that judges are too lenient or too severe in their sentences. But, you also have an obligation to do something about it. Don’t just criticize; get involved in the process and change what you don’t like.
As we gather here in this beautiful conservation area, I am reminded of the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie who sang: “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island.” As a citizen, this land truly now is your land.
The Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management hold this property in trust for all of us. And they do a fantastic job managing it. You can help by getting involved with programs like the Interior Department’s ‘America’s Great Outdoors Initiative’ to have a say in how to protect beautiful spaces like this. If you like places like this, don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved!
I will leave you with this final thought. Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address at what is now the Gettysburg National Military Park, which is protected by the National Park Service. Visit there if you can. It is very moving.
In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln honored the brave soldiers who died on that great battlefield in the Civil War. But he also issued a challenge to the nation to move forward from the war and reunite. Listen carefully to what he said because these words till apply today.
“It is… for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
That “great task” still remains before us. We live in a time of great division in our country – culturally, politically, racially. So, I issue the same challenge to you now. Because “government of the people by the people, for the people “now refers to each of you. So this is now your great task: to preserve this country and make it better, to give this nation a new birth of freedom, so that it does not perish from the earth.
Throughout our history, the United States has become better by admitting immigrants and refugees who have enriched our country. It is important that you continue that tradition, and I am confident that you will.