Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be Free?

I think as a basis for freedom we can agree that both life and liberty constitute the foundation. For one cannot be free if he is enslaved to death or another man. Therefore self-ownership--to be the master of one's own domain--is essential to freedom. It is important to note that self-ownership means that the results of one's labor are his to do with as he wishes. So individual property is an equal tenet to the foundation of freedom.

But with this basic foundation, what creates the walls of Castle Freedom? When colonials were creating the form of government we now know in the United States today, they realized they were giving up part of their freedom voluntarily to "form a more perfect union". But in return, many states required certain protections for the many freedoms (they called them "rights") possessed besides those named within the Constitution. They drew up the Bill of Rights as a list of the rights which we keep and the government may not infringe upon. The ninth amendment is an especially important one for what it states:
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
This means that we may have many more rights than those expressed within the United States Constitution.

But overall, it seems pretty straightforward, right? Freedom of speech means we have the right to speak and believe what we want and cannot be persecuted by the government for what we say. And yet throughout our history the federal government on down to local governments have passed laws infringing upon that right. Currently, hate crimes legislation is nothing more than punishing someone for their beliefs.

Well, what about the right to keep and bear arms, our second amendment? Even leaving out the exception of catastrophic weaponry such as nuclear and chemical weapons, everything from handguns to automatic rifles have been heavily regulated and even outright banned in our country. Fortunately, a few key Supreme Court decisions (District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago) have pushed back against government restrictions in recent years.

At least we can freely associate with whomever we choose, correct? Au contraire, dear reader. Laws  denying individuals the right to marry based on their skin color or sexual orientation have plagued our society, and prostitution--sex between consenting individuals based on the transaction of money--is outlawed in all but a few places in our country.

So why is it that these freedoms and so many more are trampled upon on a daily basis? One possible reason is fear; people are afraid of what unchecked freedom may result in. They worry that if restrictions and regulations are not put in place, then people will abuse their freedoms. But to be free does not mean one is free from responsibility of his actions, but that he is free to take responsibility. A person who infringes on the most inherent rights of another (remember our foundation of life, liberty, and property) is held accountable for such. But my right to swing my arms ends just in front of your face, to paraphrase a common saying. So I am not entitled to use my freedom in such a way that in inhibits the freedoms of another person, and that is the crux of the issue.

Many people assume that with the freedom of speech comes the freedom to not be offended. That, to some extent, is the basis for hate crimes laws--prosecuting individuals more heavily based on their thoughts about the victim's race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. It also seems to be the go-to defense of many people who hear something that they don't agree with, or that upsets them. But just as I have the freedom to speak my mind, you have the freedom to not listen.

With the freedom of religion--the ability to worship who or what we believe in--comes the freedom from religion: no state-sanctioned or sponsored religion. The freedom to associate with whomever one wants does not mean that a person can be forced to associate with an individual with whom they do not want.

Another reason society may be willing to place restrictions on freedom is due to a misplaced sense of justice. They rightly believe that all men (as in humanity) are created equally. However, in our society, some people are born into rich environments and some into poor. It is from there that they feel it is fair, equitable, just to provide assistance to individuals who were born into less-than-favorable circumstances. So they feel that taking the property (most often in the form of money) from wealthy individuals or organizations and giving it to the impoverished is justifiable.

An extension of the freedom of association is the freedom to voluntarily donate one's property (wealth) to an individual or organization of his choosing. The key, though, is that it is voluntary. It goes back to our main tenet of self-ownership. If a man does not have control over himself and his property then he is not free. To stake a claim on another man's property is to exert unjust power over him and ultimately, infringing on his freedoms.

We should strive to create a world and society that expand freedom for all, but not at the expense of taking freedoms from others. Even our forefathers made the mistake of establishing freedoms for some while denying them to others. But that does not negate the principles stated within the Bill of Rights. Freedom from coercion is what we should strive for. We must primarily recognize that our rights are not granted to us by government (for that which is given by man can be taken away), but we are endowed with them upon birth. And it is those freedoms that both make us human and make us equal.

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