What will you risk for freedom's sake?

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By The Staff

The release of a damning report detailing decades of abuse of young people in Ireland's church-operated reform schools didn't make the headlines it should have last week, at least not in the United States.

Call it old news.

We've all heard the reports before: about priests who abused children and teens for decades, protected over the years by church leaders who were unwilling to report the crimes to authorities. Sound familiar? It's happened here, too. That's the accusation made in civil suits by victims of alleged abuse by former priest Harry Monroe, who was a pastor here at one time.

Back to Ireland. A nine-year investigation uncovered rapes, beatings, molestation and mental cruelty at church-run reform schools. The tax-supported schools were run by religious orders and the abuse took place over decades, reaching back into the 1930s.

The investigation, not surprisingly was opposed by the religious orders who wanted to keep the names of molesting priests secret. The truth still came out. Religious orders knew of the pedophiles in schools, but did little or nothing to remove them. In many cases, they were simply transferred to another school.

That's alleged to have happened in the U.S. Church officials here shielded their own pedophiles from prosecution amid a culture of secrecy and arrogance.

The lesson? Authority has to be questioned, in government, in business and in church. No one is beyond accountability.

It's not hard to see how history could have been changed had people who knew the truth been willing to challenge authority. Could the Holocaust have been prevented if more Germans protested Nazi crimes? Would enemy combatants in U.S. custody have escaped abuse, even torture, had someone blown the whistle earlier? Maybe the economic chaos of the past year could have been prevented if someone had shouted, "Hey, they're cooking the books."

As millions of newly minted graduates establish their lives in coming years, we hope they stand ready to challenge wrongs, to report the abuse of power and stand up for the rights of others.

We hope they agree that authority should be questioned, in the local courthouse and city hall, in the Statehouse, Capitol Hill and the White House. This year's crop of graduates must refuse to cower to power, position or prestige. Don't be afraid, in the spirit of an old journalistic adage, "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Our nation needs more people willing to afflict those who are too comfortable, who think they are above challenge.

None of us should overlook the fact that our country was founded by a company of political rabble-rousers willing to lay down their lives rather than see their freedoms lost. Those founding fathers risked everything by challenging the wielders of power in their day. Are we willing to do the same?

It's appropriate then on this Memorial Day to resurrect the spirit of Patrick Henry, who made a famous speech in front of the Virginia House of Burgesses in March 1775. The resolution he advocated organized Virginia's militia for what Henry knew was a coming war of independence against Britain. Before closing with the famous words, "Give me liberty or give me death," Henry said something we, too, must never forget: freedom carries a high price.

"If we wish to be free - if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending - if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained - we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!"

Our nation's freedom was purchased and has been preserved through bitter fighting, by the blood shed by millions. That's why today is Memorial Day.

Protecting freedom still takes courage. It takes a willingness to fight and the courage to hold people in positions of power, all of them, accountable to the people. So, the question remains. Are you ready for the fight?

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