LIBERTY ISLAND, USA — It was Independence Day, July 4, 1997. My wife, Elizabeth, and I decided to take the children to see the Statue of Liberty. What better place to celebrate the founding of the greatest nation in the world? Perhaps Independence Hall in Philadelphia? Maybe, but we were in New York — and this would be an opportunity to teach our kids about the ideals of freedom upon which the America Dream was created.

The first surprise was how few people would be joining us for this 221th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The ferry ride over to Ellis Island and then Liberty Island was beautiful, the sun was shining and the breeze was blowing. But only a handful of Americans were making the trek with us. And many of those were foreigners, speaking other languages, but clearly in awe of the vision of Thomas Jefferson and the courage of the patriots who stood with him against tyranny, religious persecution, taxation without representation and colonialism.

On Ellis Island, we quickly found the wall commemorating the arrival of millions of immigrants who came to this country earlier this century and contributed so much to building the world’s most benevolent superpower. The names of my paternal grandmother, Alexandra Kurdock, and grandfather, Joseph Farah, were etched upon that wall. I reflected upon their own courage in making those long, lonely journeys from Middle Eastern countries in search of freedom and opportunity. I tried to give my four little California girls a sense of what they must have endured to give them the comfortable life we all take for granted.

Though I grew up in the New York area, I had never made this simple trip before. The statue was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. What a sight it must have been for those immigrants as they made their way to Ellis Island.

As a remembrance of this special day, we took the children to the island’s official gift shop, run by the U.S. Park Service. Inside we purchased several replicas of the statue and historical reference works on the mammoth task of building it and restoring it to its present glory. The kids were as excited as their parents about their new treasures, which would occupy a place of honor in our home.

But what a shock and disappointment for their parents when we examined the prizes more closely and found three incredible words stamped on the bottom: “Made in China.”

Yes, my friends, this was symbolism so tragic — so ironic — that it quickly brought us back to the reality of what we as a nation are facing today.

Think about it. At least 2,000 Chinese citizens gave their lives only a few short years ago in Tiananmen Square for the grave offense of erecting a papier mache replica of this symbol of liberty and individual rights. The Chinese government ruthlessly stormed the crowd of freedom-loving protesters and smashed that statue. Now, apparently, the U.S. Park Service has contracted with a Chinese company to make tiny replicas for tourists visiting the Statue of Liberty!

We thought long and hard about the poor Chinese workers — some perhaps in slave labor camps — toiling away their hours and days making little Statues of Liberty while they themselves would never have the chance to experience the promise it represents.

Contemporary China is the very antithesis of everything for which the Founding Fathers fought and died. Religious persecution worse than any they ever experienced or imagined 221 years ago is taking place today in this “enlightened” age in modern China. The slavery they wrestled with so long ago and we as a nation shed so much blood over and abolished more than 130 years ago still persists in China. Grotesque human rights abuses — including forced abortions and severe state-imposed limitations on childbirth — are a way of life in China. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are unheard of in 1997 China.

Has America sold its very soul? Today, Senate hearings on campaign finance abuses centered around official Chinese government involvement will begin. They have the potential to find out just how far the highest U.S. government officials have gone in selling out our national interests to the enemies of freedom.

Yet, those who best recognize the dangers our country is facing as we approach the new millennium are not optimistic that these hearings will wake up our country and lead us back to sanity — and liberty and justice for all.

Part of me wanted to tear that “Made in China” label off those little statues. But I think we’ll leave them alone. We’ll use them as a way to teach our kids about how fragile freedom really is. We’ll leave them as a constant reminder that none of us are truly free as long as some of us are deprived of our God-given rights.

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