Rhetoric is never in short supply when defining the meaning of a national holiday. Earlier this week, we celebrated our very hard-won freedom from tyranny, oppression, unjust taxation and wrongful imprisonment.

We refer to it as a shared right, equally shared by all men, women and children, and celebrate with parades, band music, fireworks and barbecues.

A too-large portion of our population has little appreciation for the efforts undertaken to win those freedoms or the massive constant endeavors suffered by the few to serve the many required to preserve what we enjoy.

But we overlook a societal danger to all of our freedoms and woefully underestimate the cancerous degradation that eats away from personal freedoms like nothing else we’ve ever known.

Addiction is among the cruelest forms of imprisonment known to humans. It steals joy, cognition, loved ones and our children from our possession.

We don’t consider freedom from addiction as a treasured right nor do we recognize the clear and present danger it presents to our country, greater even than the devastation and misery that the last couple of years of the coronavirus pandemic visited upon us.

A child is born and, in that instant, is as free as anyone will ever be. Freedom from anxiety, freedom to develop and learn, freedom to love unconditionally, and express any feeling, emotion or need at any moment without restriction or justification.

A baby is free to go poop in the middle of a wedding ceremony, demand to be comforted or fed instantly without judgment, and to regard the surrounding world carelessly. The peal of laughter from a baby momentarily frees everyone in earshot from the cares of the world as that joyful sound is irresistible in its purity.

The end of childhood, of development, of enjoyment happens when that still-developing youth embraces intoxicating substances. Expressed joy becomes fleeting, unnatural and eventually vanishes altogether as the walls of that personal prison close darkly in.

The freedom is gone, the sentence is life. All incarceration results from some circumstance or choice, but this prison is the hardest to escape from. It’s our greatest injustice. Recovery can happen, but it’s a parole that, when violated, starts the prison sentence all over again.

Let’s indeed celebrate our precious freedoms. Lord knows that people around the globe still look to our country as that beacon.

But let’s also fight for the freedom of others, our children, our future. It’s no less important than any soil we’ve defended in our past, and it’s a battle that is winnable. We can, together, be that “… well-regulated militia” that is a part of our Second Amendment.

Freedom is everything, but it has to be protected for the sake of all, and particularly, our children.

Randy Rowse is Santa Barbara’s mayor. He can be contacted at rrowse@santabarbaraca.gov. The opinions expressed are his own.