Fireworks illuminate the sky over the 21st Street Bridge in Tulsa on Independence Day 2019. MEGAN ROSS/Tulsa World

Happy Independence Day.

Nearly 250 years ago, 13 British colonies in North America, tired of paying taxes to a government that would not give their citizens representation, announced to the world that they were striking out on their own.

It was an audacious act — taking on the world’s preeminent superpower of the day — and the start of something great. The American Revolution set loose ideas of self-determination and civil liberty that continue to rattle the forces of tyranny to this day.

Our nation continues to come to terms with the promises it made in 1776. When we declared that all men are created equal, the words were empty to those enslaved, disenfranchised, dispossessed and treated as undeserving of liberty. Black people, women, American Indians and others were left out of the bargain. It has taken too long to make good on the explicit promises of 1776. We still struggle with giving them full meaning.

Today, we face a peculiar conflict between liberty and the public good. A misguided few seem to think that their “right” to infect others with COVID-19 germs supersedes the rights of others to live free of disease. The warped reading of American values seems to hold that a social expectation that they wear a mask to protect others somehow infringes on their freedom.


There is no more right to go without a mask during a pandemic and observe other moderate measures designed to prevent the spread of an incurable disease than there is a right to walk around the city without pants. In fact, you probably have more right to walk around without pants.

Refusing to wear a mask in crowded public places isn’t a protected political expression. It’s a bull-headed act of ignorance, denial and arrogance.

Every civil liberty has appropriate limitations. The Bill of Rights isn’t a suicide pact. You’re right to live life unmasked ends at the point that you share air with another person.

Celebrate Independence Day safely this year. If you go out in public, wear a mask and maintain a safe distance from others. The patriots of 1776 pledged to one another their lives, fortunes and their sacred honor. At the bare minimum, we can pledge to protect one another from misguided notions of liberty that spread disease and put lives in danger.

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Editorial Pages Editor

Wayne is the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, he previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308