Dismissed Duty

I just requested to postpone my jury service (you can do it online now). It is not because I don’t want to serve. I do. It is because it’s scheduled to be around the time that school will be particularly busy for me. Though I have been dismissed a handful of times, I have served on two juries in the past. So I know that there’s a chance I could be taken away from my studies. Thankfully, the court system is flexible. But too many people that I know (including some reading this right now) are not as flexible. They would do anything to get out of jury service. Some are annoyed by the inconvenience. Some are disgusted by the imposition. Some are just plain baffled by the whole institution. They tell proud, piteous stories in which they are the heroes who, by some clever or conniving contrivance, manage to escape the perils of public service. As they tell these stories I get the sense that they expect to receive some sort of knowing sympathy from me. But I confess that there is within me no such sentiment to exhume. I can only respond by telling my own stories of service. So I clumsily attempt to retell the details of the cases on which I have deliberated. There is intrigue, humor, danger, deception, crime and justice. They are not impressed. To be so would betray their prior conviction that they are indeed the heroes due laud for their evasion of such a mundane chore. Sure, I have had my turn sitting in the waiting room for hours, going to lunch, and coming back only to find that I was free to leave. But I have also played my part in bringing two criminals to justice and, along with a group of eleven others, righting the wrongs of society. It is my duty.

The four-letter “d” word has become a contemptible ideal among many Americans. The mere mention of the word is enough to conjure up begrudged and bitter feelings. Why is that? It is because very few people know what freedom is. Too many people think freedom is liberty to choose whatever one desires. In truth, freedom is the liberty to choose what one ought to do.

Freedom may be understood in comparison with slavery. Slavery is a state in which one has responsibilities but no rights. What if freedom was just the opposite? If people enjoyed their personal rights and privileges as citizens and then proceeded to act on every whim and fancy, how free would they be? Think of driving, for example. If people went about exercising their right to own a car of their choosing and to drive wherever they so desired, yet each one decided for themselves whether they would drive on the road or the sidewalk and whether they would stop on a red or green light, how free would they be? How would they best be able to enjoy their right to drive? By following the rules or by making up their own? Would not you say that in order for them to truly be free they would have to live up to certain obligations to the other drivers? And would you not agree that he who did not live up to those basic, common-sense obligations was not fit for the freedom he were afforded? Should not such a radical individualist be given what he wants—freedom from societal constraints in his own private cell?

To perform our duty is an honor and honorable people carry it out. Those inconvenienced by duty are overly individualistic and must realize that they are not the end-all of human history but that we have a moral imperative to press on and pass the baton. Those who feel imposed upon by duty are too self-important and must learn the difference between having rights and being royalty. Those who denigrate civic duty do damage to our democracy and demonstrate their own character deficit. And I am here writing not to defame such people, but hopefully to awaken us all to our obligations as citizens.

Indeed, there are those that have very good reasons for not being able to serve our country, despite their desire to do so. Today, I would simply ask that you consider our American military doing their duty to protect our freedoms. If they can sacrifice their careers, their families, even their lives, cannot we honor these patriots by serving our country as jurors when asked and using our blood-bought freedom to vote our conscience? They went to Afghanistan. The least I can do is go to the courthouse.

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