“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are the pursuit of happiness.”

Standing in a small group Wednesday afternoon on the south lawn of the Brown County Courthouse, Brownwood attorney Todd Steele read the familiar words from the Declaration of Independence.

The eight members of the group had been given copies of the entire document and took turns reading a section.

The group — consisting of five attorneys, an elementary school principal, a courthouse staff member and a member of the media — participated in an annual statewide effort by local criminal defense lawyers’ groups affiliated with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Association members have volunteered to hold readings in all of Texas’ 254 counties.

The group had virtually no audience outside the Brown County Courthouse as group members took their turns reading portions of the declaration.

“We do have a limited reach here,” attorney Jud Woodley of Comanche said after the reading was completed. “But we’re all here, and so everybody that participated, I think, got something meaningful from it.”

Woodley has participated in Declaration of Independence readings in previous years, and he read in Comanche and Mills counties in addition to Brown County Wednesday.

The document becomes more meaningful the more he reads it, Woodley said.

“Parts of it will stand out that I didn’t notice before,” Woodley said. He said he takes away from reading the declaration “a sense that we the people can interrupt our government.”

Steele said, “this is  why we celebrate Independence Day. This is what the Fourth of July is all about. This is why we’re the nation that we are. It’s important to remember that.”

Another Brownwood attorney, Mike Smith, said he enjoys “the community aspect of it, that you can kind of get together with your fellow citizens, fellow attorneys, people who work in the courthouse and be reminded of some principles.

“Quite frankly I think we all get pretty busy and caught up in the technical minutiae of what we do, and we forget this was a group of people who were having a pretty serious problem, and they got together and did something about it.”

Jeanette Lancaster, who came to the courthouse on other business, agreed to join the group and read portions of the declaration. Lancaster will begin working this fall as the new principal of Woodland Heights Elementary School.

“I think it’s just great that there’s a group of people out here that want to recognize and remember why we celebrate this holiday, just finding it important enough to bring it to people’s attention at least once a year,” Lancaster said.

She said the message she would convey to elementary school students is “we’re a very fortunate country, founded by people that stood up for what the felt was right.”

That needs to be celebrated every day, and especially on the Fourth of July, Lancaster said.

Jennifer Aaron, who works as a court coordinator in 35th District Judge Steve Ellis’ office, stepped out of the courthouse on other business when she joined the group for the reading.

“I’m happy that I came out,” Aaron said, adding that she appreciates participants taking the time for the reading. Aaron said she’ll try to help publicize the event more ahead of next year’s reading.

“We therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do in the name and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”