As we gather with loved ones this Christmas Day, I am reminded of the blessings I enjoy as a resident of North Carolina and a citizen of the United States. Our state and nation, founded on principles of liberty and limited, constitutional government, have provided the freedom to shape our destinies and pursue happiness. In the spirit of the season, it is appropriate for all of us to express gratitude for the political and economic freedoms that form the cornerstones of American society.

John Adams, a Founding Father and a key architect of our republic, wrote in his Novanglus Essays, “They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men.” These words encapsulate the essence of a society where the rule of law reigns supreme, ensuring that individuals, families, and institutions can thrive in an environment that respects their rights and freedoms. It is a sentiment we hold dear in North Carolina, where the vision of the John Locke Foundation aligns seamlessly with Adams’ vision of a government that serves its people through adherence to the principles of justice and the rule of law.

The rule of law fosters justice and order in any society. It dictates that all individuals, regardless of status, are subject to and are equal under the law, creating a framework of transparent, predictable, and consistently applied legal principles. This framework safeguards against arbitrary or discriminatory actions by those in positions of authority, ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in legal processes.

In the realm of individual freedom, the rule of law plays a crucial role as a protective mechanism, guaranteeing that the rights and liberties of every person are acknowledged and preserved. In the United States, a nation built on democratic principles, the rule of law has been a bedrock of its legal system, contributing to a society where citizens trust in the fair administration of justice.

However, the contrast is stark in comparing the American experience with the People’s Republic of China, where political considerations and governmental control often overshadow the rule of law. In China, the rule of law does not have to be consistently applied, and legal processes can be influenced by the political motivations of its leaders, potentially compromising individual freedoms and creating a more challenging environment for the fair and transparent administration of justice.

This brings us to Jimmy Lai.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, renowned for his staunch support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and his vocal criticism of China’s leaders, marked his 76th birthday behind bars in a maximum-security prison earlier this month. Arrested in 2020, Lai has been detained on multiple charges related to his involvement in Hong Kong’s democracy protests and his role as the founder of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper forced to cease operations in 2021.

With charges under the sweeping national security law that has reshaped Hong Kong’s political landscape, Lai’s current legal predicament poses his career’s most significant legal challenge. Facing the prospect of life imprisonment if convicted, Lai appeared in court on Dec. 18, acknowledging supporters with a wave and a smile. The trial, slated to last at least 80 days, is a landmark prosecution in Hong Kong’s post-1997 era, when control passed from British to China control. It holds the potential to establish new legal precedents in the city’s evolving political landscape, drawing global attention to the ongoing erosion of democratic freedoms.

As we revel in our liberties, it is crucial to cast our gaze beyond our borders and reflect on the plight of those who are denied the freedoms we cherish. More than three years have passed since Jimmy Lai’s arrest. As the founder of the now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, Lai has spent decades courageously challenging Hong Kong and Beijing authorities. Sadly, Lai, a devout Catholic, finds himself on trial and behind bars on Christmas for utilizing what would otherwise be called his “freedom of speech” in any Western democracy.

The ordeal faced by Jimmy Lai serves as a reminder that the fight for freedom is ongoing and that the principles we hold dear must be defended vigilantly. As then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan said in 1967, “Freedom is a fragile thing, and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.”

Unfortunately, freedom seems to be lost in once-free Hong Kong.

International pressure is mounting, with diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, and Australia attending Lai’s trial; we must lend our voices to the chorus calling for justice and the protection of fundamental human freedoms. As John Locke wrote, “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”

The British and US governments have rightfully called for Jimmy Lai’s immediate release, denouncing the trial as politically motivated. As we express our gratitude for the liberties we enjoy, let us not forget our responsibility to advocate for those who are unjustly oppressed. In the true spirit of Christmas, a season of compassion and goodwill, I am urging Chinese authorities to release Jimmy Lai from prison and allow him to continue his work as a defender of democracy and free expression. Further, I urge the Biden administration to apply all possible diplomatic pressure in this endeavor.

If you would like to learn more about Jimmy Lai’s story, I encourage you to attend or host a screening of a film by the Acton Institute entitled “The Hong Konger.”

As we celebrate the blessings of liberty in North Carolina and the United States, let’s extend our thoughts and prayers to those worldwide fighting for the same freedoms we hold dear. May the principles of justice and the rule of law prevail within our borders and across the globe, ensuring that every individual can shape their destiny in a society that upholds the ideals of a “government of laws, not men.”