This week we will mark the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. A day or two off from work, travel, leisure and firework displays are among the usual ways to celebrate the occasion.

At the various 4th of July events across the land, two words of enduring importance will be repeated — freedom and liberty. To what extant they'll be spoken in sincerity and fully appreciated by listeners is a question worth considering.

Unfortunately, over time, often-uttered words and phrases can take on an aspect of shallow rhetoric. Too often their meaning is diluted, minimized or even reshaped through common usage.

Many Americans take freedom and liberty for granted. Many even fail to realize that freedom and liberty are possessions of great rarity. This remains true today as it has throughout history. Freedom and liberty are not now, and have never been, the norm. Fifty years ago a majority of Americans understood this. But that was before the news media, our education system and Hollywood started peddling a very different message.

A theme of the human condition is that things taken for granted are in great danger of being lost. One is reminded of the line in the Joni Mitchell song from the 1970s — “You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone.”

Our nation is unique. At its very inception the powers that government was not allowed to have over individuals were specifically spelled out. Citizens of the United States were not to be subjects of those who govern, but a free people with unalienable rights with which even the powerful and mighty could not tamper.

Over the years, whenever our way of life was threatened from abroad, we've risen to the occasion. The blood of our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters has been shed defending our most precious possessions — freedom and liberty.

From the very beginning in 1776, the greatest danger to our freedom and liberty has been within us. It comes when those words are contorted. During the first century of the United States, freedom and liberty were twisted terms; diminished and tainted by their incomplete application.

Slavery ate away at the nation like a poison. Keeping a certain group of people in bondage and counting them as property, instead of citizens, was a direct contradiction to “freedom and liberty for all.” This sickened the American spirit. Inevitably it tore the nation apart. It took the Civil War, the bloodiest war in our nation's history, to set us back on the freedom and liberty path.

In modern times the words have steadily been contorted under a different array of guises.

One of the worst is the idea that we have a “right” not to be offended. That's the concept behind the cultural command to be politically correct. This isn't a step toward tyranny; it is tyranny. Although government may not have been the original source of the politically correct command, our political discourse has been completely infected by it.

At its core, the politically correct dogma is an attack on free speech. It presumes an absolute right for certain elites to be the word police, proclaiming their authority to enforce a self-serving code for defining what other individuals are attempting to express. In addition, these word police reserve to themselves the right to re-interpret their own code to the advantage of those they like and the disadvantage of those they dislike.

On the surface this is just the thinly disguised censorship of words. But in reality the goal is the suppression of ideas. The politically correct dogma is as alien to freedom and liberty as slavery was 150 years ago. Sadly, this blatant, willful attempt to stifle free speech and political debate has been very successful.

Let's make it clear, every individual has a right to interpret the words they hear or read as they choose. However, the politically correct dogma has nothing to do with individual interpretation. It's a loosely organized dogma intended to control and limit public discourse. How ironic that after breaking away from Britain 237 years ago in a quest for freedom and liberty, we've imposed this brand of tyranny upon ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Make no mistake about it. Without the unwitting cooperation of millions of Americans, the politically correct dogma would never have become prevalent. And this would never have happened had those millions been taught the principles of freedom and liberty as our nation's founding fathers understood them.

Joseph de Maistre, French lawyer, diplomat, writer and philosopher, was only 23 at the time of the Declaration of Independence. This quote is attributed to him: “False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetrate the crime without knowing what they're doing.”

Another modern contortion of freedom and liberty comes when government promises us freedom and liberty from certain fears, such as the fear of not being able to afford health care.

Yet in the end, this promise (Obamacare) will only redirect our fear. In place of the fear of not affording the health care we need, the new fear will be that government will decide it can't afford it or, through bureaucratic decisions or inefficiencies, will deny us access to it.

Meanwhile, we will have sacrificed the measure of control we currently have over our own health care. It's a raw deal in which we lose the freedom and liberty of making choices and taking individual action while trading one set of fears for another

Perhaps it can be summed up in this way: Freedom and liberty are the two pillars of independence. Dependence is literally the opposite of independence. 

Joseph de Maistre, uttered his most famous quote in 1811 when he said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

I'll leave it to you readers to decide whether that is an encouraging or frightening thought.