Even though I have written many types of stories and columns throughout my career, this one is somewhat different. Normally, the opinion columns I have written were focused toward one audience, such as ones for membership organizations. Readers had basically the same ideas and philosophical thoughts as mine.

When you write for a newspaper, however, you have readers with different ideas, thoughts and philosophies on a wide range of subjects, including politics, religion, economy, jobs, governments, culture and many more. There are many people - not only in this community, but also throughout the world - whom I respect. Sometimes we disagree on issues. At times, we are exact polar opposites on our thoughts about a particular subject.

Guess what? That's OK. No, really - it's OK. We are still friends and I would do nearly anything for them. You see, to me, if friends cannot express different ideas to one another, then how can we expect complete strangers from different backgrounds and cultures to have discussions and make our world a better place?

My dad always taught us to never discuss politics or religion with our friends if we wanted to stay friends. At times, he and I disagreed, especially on politics. That did not keep us from loving each other. I am sure both of those subjects will come up over time (sorry, Dad!), but I hope we all can show mutual respect in our differences. This is important to us because the freedom to speak our opinions openly is one of our rights as Americans.

Tomorrow is July 4th, Independence Day for the United States. What does that mean to you? Is it just a summer day to get off work, go to the lake or the pool, cook out, and "ooohh and aahhh" watching fireworks? Or is it a day when you can take a moment and think about what others have done to give us those rights? How important is your freedom to you?

To me, next to life itself, our individual freedom is one of God's greatest gifts to mankind. Today, one of our most pressing needs is the preservation of our individual liberty.

Freedom should be treasured. It is inherent in the spirit of humankind. It is a divine gift. I shudder and am even angered when I see people in the streets of this country, protesting to have any of our rights taken away. I don't get it. It seems as though Americans are the only ones on the planet who purposely go out and ask for our rights to be removed. It is ludicrous.

In today's world, force tends to rule. Our individual freedoms are threatened every day - threatened by international rivalries and false political ideals here at home that will lead to entrapment of the individuals those ideals are supposed to help. Way too often, unwise legislation is prompted by political expediency.

If even a few of the proposed laws promoted in the recent debates are enacted, they most certainly will become a slippery slope that will continue to undermine our freedoms and rob us of our rightful liberties. All throughout history, this course has never worked. Instead, history has proved these ideals lead to dictatorship, class entrapment and even tyranny.

Let us never forget that governments are the servants, not the masters, of the people. No greater responsibility rests upon us as citizens of this republic - yes, republic - than to protect the freedoms offered us by the Constitution of the United States. We should be willing to dedicate our lives to protecting these rights for ourselves, our children, and for the generations to come. Many over the years have served, fought and died to give us these freedoms. Instead of us simply saying we are willing to die for our freedoms, let me ask this: Are we willing to live for it?

Randy Gibson is a former executive director of the Texas State Rifle Association and the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce. Most recently, he was program liaison and director of health media for the Cherokee Nation Health Services Group.