Is America really free?

Clean your grills, loosen your belts and bust out those fireworks, because Independence Day is near! It’s a time when we can celebrate with our families one of the most important dates in American history: our independence and secession from Britain.

The Fourth of July has always stood for one thing in particular: freedom. We have unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, after recent tragic events in America, it seems ironic that we would be celebrating such a holiday.

Can we really say that we are free in America? The answer is a bit murky.

One of the most blatant reasons is surveillance. We have given up a substantial amount of our privacy (in many cases without the general public even knowing it) in order to assure protection from domestic terrorist attacks.

After the Orlando shooting, many of us have repeated the same dialogue as other mass shootings. We expect a swift and immediate response yet can’t seem to agree on what that response is. Both sides of the democratic and republican parties have proposed more intelligence activity to halt such atrocities from occurring, but have we really seen that much progress?

As reporter Glenn Greenwald said, “It is possible, indeed probable, that violent attacks will occur even with superb law enforcement. This is the tradeoff we make for liberty.”

The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution also guarantees that there shall be no law establishing religion or any law that prevents the exercise of it. With Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country and the current rise of Islamophobia, this freedom ceases to exist.

We also still struggle with a woman’s access to abortion. Although federally legal, the resources provided are minimal. A recent survey found that 87 percent of all U.S. counties have no identifiable abortion provider. In non-metropolitan areas, the figure rises to 97 percent. As a result, women must travel long distances to reach the nearest abortion provider.

By not providing this access, we are stripping a woman’s right for further education as well as the Supreme Court’s decision to federally legalize it in the first place.

The American prison population has also more than quadrupled since the early 1980s when mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drugs went into effect. Severe prison overcrowding has become a serious issue because of this.

Violent criminals are now released early to make room for non-violent drug offenders who are required to serve a minimum amount of time—regardless of what a judge says.

I could walk freely in Oregon with an ounce of marijuana in my pocket, but if I head over to a state like Utah, having that or even paraphernalia could have me incarcerated for six months and fined up to $1,000.

Selling any amount could have you locked up for five years with a fine of $5,000. For those who do their time, they are then released into an environment where it is nearly impossible to find a good job with a criminal record. The prison system burdens a criminal by not providing a proper reintegration into society. Those unalienable rights we are supposed to be guaranteed are almost impossible to reclaim.

I may sound a bit critical of Uncle Sam. Sure, compared to other countries, we have it pretty damn good. We’re able to express our beliefs and values in safe environments in schools and universities around the nation, something that isn’t guaranteed worldwide.

As we gather with our loved ones to celebrate the day our nation became free from foreign authority, we need to acknowledge that we have to continue to fight to protect and stand for the rights that our founding fathers established. If we are going to put ourselves on an international pedestal that represents these values, then we need to actually exercise them.