Benjamin Franklin

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one           — Benjamin Franklin  

It’s always been so clear: “America is the greatest country on earth!”  But is it really?  To be honest, I’ve lived in places that at least felt freer. Sure, there may have been economic depression, high unemployment and government corruption, but don’t we also have that?

Particularly when times are tough, we need to embrace our national pride. But because it “cometh before the fall,” we also need to recognize where that pride is distorted by arrogance, avarice and an inflated sense of individual entitlement at the expense of everyone and everything else. Not to impart some Malthusian sense of foreboding, but freedom is not automatic and the more we love America, the more important it is to have this discussion.

What does it mean to be, “free?” How “free” are we? And how free are we relative to other developed, democratic nations?

For some, freedom is precious. For others, it’s an entitlement they were born to and therefore means much less. But whatever your definition of freedom, does America have more of it than other places?

The reality is we’re not as free as we think. To have real freedom, people must understand what it is, what it is not, and the price that we must pay for it.

What is, “freedom?”

Dictionary.com provides a classic definition: “1. the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” In its purest sense, freedom is a state of being, irrespective of action. It can be used for good or evil, depending upon its steward. Therefore like Democracy, freedom is an ideal that, when exercised provides no guarantee of a positive result.

Merriam-Webster defines freedom as, “The quality or state of being free: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” The phrase, “absence of necessity” changes the meaning of freedom to what is better called, “Constitutional freedom,” or a set of ideals and rights that are ascribed to individuals, an idea that’s relatively new in democratic history.

In truth the mere “absence of necessity” in itself does not equal personal freedom. Notions such as government-provided health care, Federally-funded art, social support and other entitlements are actually all part of a bundle of so-called “rights” that Western society has foolishly come to regard as freedom.  But this risk of forgetting what freedom really means is likely to be the greatest reason that we lose it.

Scholars speak of “negative freedoms” verses “positive freedoms:” those things that government protects us from verses those things that we as individuals are entitled to have. The original United States Constitution contains very few “rights” pertaining to individuals. Our forefathers were unconcerned with whether men could marry each other or if citizens were too stupid to make their own nutritional choices, but rather with the establishment and organization of our government.

 The Birth of Darwinian liberties

With the country organized, freedom began to evolve. Growing prosperity and relative peace afforded citizens the luxury of seeking loftier freedoms. People looked around and said, “We can be even better.” So between 1791 and 1992, people assembled, waved signs, gave speeches, had marches and even burned a few bras, resulting in the ratification of twenty-seven Constitutional Amendments; the first ten of which are known as, The Bill of Rights.

Since then, as our freedoms have widened in scope, so has our appetite for more. Yet strangely, for all our efforts to ensure that freedom of every kind rings proudly from shore to shore, today’s modern ideas about freedom have had the exact opposite effect, in reality narrowing the definition of which behaviors, words, and values are considered acceptable in an increasingly intolerant society. Today, freedom has quite ironically been twisted to mean, “The power to willingly suppress the freedoms of another.”

A slippery slope   

It’s a dangerous thing when people buy into the idea that they have the “right” not to be offended. At some point Americans embraced this idea that we should be able to go out into the world, interact with all kinds of people and that everyone out there had better be on the alert not to offend us. This new age of hypersensitivity and victimhood is very effectively contributing to the erosion of personal freedom. And although the Founding Fathers didn’t emphasize the rights of individuals per se, they did suffer greatly to guard against injustice and limitless government. Let us take a look at some of the liberties they so earnestly fought for and where those freedoms stand in America today:

Freedom of expression

In 1716, French satirist Voltaire was arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille because his writings offended the French aristocracy. Today conservative media outlets are under attack by those who disagree with the message and full-scale campaigns are waged demanding continued tax-payer support of liberal-leaning networks like National Public Radio. Granted, NPR has some great programming (Seriously, who doesn’t like “The Car Guys?”).  But why fund any media outlet with tax-payer’s money? And if, then why fund certain media outlets over others? The answer is clear to both those who support it and those who oppose it: government-funded media equals government controlled media. Pure and simple.

Quite simply, our freedom to peacefully express our opinions is viciously under attack at all levels.  We live in a country where Secret Service police monitor Facebook accounts and think it’s acceptable to interrogate school children without notifying parents http://www.q13fox.com/news/kcpq-secret-service-the-feds-question-a-tacoma-seventh-grader-for-a-facebook-comment-about-president-obama-and-suicide-bombers-20110516,0,5762882.story; where a man who displays the American flag on his motorcycle is told by apartment management that he must remove the flags or face eviction http://www.katu.com/news/local/64059697.html. It is here in today’s United States where a state Supreme Court banned a valedictorian from speaking at her own graduation because her speech contained the word, “God.” http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_3d114a0a-f437-11df-b8f7-001cc4c002e0.html#ixzz1WARNnB00

Freedom to move across borders

In 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected to keep people where they belonged in order to re-build the country after the 2nd World War.  Border guards at The Wall were authorized to shoot and kill anyone who tried to escape and since the people weren’t armed, this worked very well.

Today, in the country that has everything and is the freest on earth, Passports and driver’s licenses have bar codes containing personal information, and states like Florida now require a host of personal documents such as birth certificate, social security card, house deeds, utility bills, W-2 forms, pay check stubs, court orders and marriage certificates to be scanned into a permanent database under the guise of proof of identity.

If you want to travel across state-lines or abroad, the Transportation and Safety Administration acts as its own principality, imposing upon you, your small children, the elderly and infirm whatever methods of search and seizure they please in the name of security but recoil at any suggestion of racial profiling as prejudicial and backward http://www.chandlerswatch.com/2010/11/12/tsa-gropes-prods-and-inappropriately-pats-down-law-abiding-americans/.

Are you on the government’s ‘No-fly’ list? http://www.alternet.org/rights/62407/ If so, chances are you have no idea how you got on it and that you will fail miserably in ever finding out, much less fixing the matter. These post-9/11 lists were created under the far-reaching authority of the Department of Homeland Security for the purpose of – what else – protecting our freedom. In reality these “lists” are actually full-fledged files containing information about you and that you have absolutely no legal right to see. Customs officials hold all the power of whether or not to detain  you based upon the information, and citizens who’ve been falsely named and whose files contain inaccurate information have made use of Sunshine laws to obtain copies of their file, only to find them almost completely redacted.

In this land of freedom where people travel in the pursuit of happiness, they’re also subject to TSA restrictions on items they bring aboard aircraft, and as with any government-run organization, the horrors of mind-boggling idiocy run amok. All-too-regular are the stories where medications are taken from the elderly and babies must endure the flight with no food. Senior citizens and children are routinely singled out and searched in humiliating and inappropriate ways. All of this in a country whose people love to cry out that ours is the land of the free; the freest of them all.

Freedom to worship without persecution

We all know the story of the Pilgrims, huddled into the Mayflower with rats and disease, turning away from the Crown and all the protection it afforded for the chance to live in a land where they could exist and worship as they pleased. They braved harsh winters and many died, but such was the price of freedom for future generations.

In 14th century Spain the Spanish Inquisition officially burned 341,021 people for religious and political reasons. The accused were not allowed to have counsel and the names of all witnesses against them were kept secret. This dark period in Spain’s history is just one example in a long line of tyrannical religious crusades such as those of Henry VIII, his daughter, Queen Mary, of “Bloody Mary” fame, ancient Rome’s persecution of Christians and Germany’s Holocaust. Each and every one of them provide clarity as to why our forebears risked everything to live a life that included “liberty” in the ways that we’ve come to know it, including the freedom to worship God openly and without fear.

Today, the United States maintains an heir of superiority regarding our separation of church and state and our freedom to believe as we choose, and yet no portion of the Constitution has been so grossly distorted. Article I states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” While this prohibits the government from establishing religions or imposing religious practices upon citizens, it also means that any law prohibiting the right of a citizen to exercise their religion is equally unconstitutional. Article I doesn’t prohibit the expression of faith in public buildings. It’s only a massive campaign of the politically correct that take issue with it.

As a result, religion is suppressed and some are singled out at the expense of new, politically correct pseudo-religions. In our America, children can’t wear a necklace with a cross to school http://www.khou.com/news/khou-93810709.html, The Ten Commandments are offensive in a court of law, there can be no Christmas trees in banks or at graduations – yet we are forced to genuflect to the slightest Muslim need at taxpayer expense – airports in America have built Mosques and feet-washing stations to accommodate Muslim travelers. Currently there are more than a dozen public Universities in the United States that have added Muslim foot-baths on campus, prayer rooms for Muslim students, halal food in cafeterias and scheduling around important Muslim holidays, all at taxpayer expense. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/07/world/americas/07iht-muslims.4.7022566.html

What’s interesting about this whole politically correct agenda to completely obliterate religious faith from society because the slightest awareness of religions could offend someone, is that U.S. Christians and Jews have lived in comparative harmony  for decades without banning the other’s religious observances, even in public schools. Historically American children have worn crosses and yarmulkes to school, held Christmas plays and received excused absences for Jewish holidays. Between the two largest American religious groups, there has been a respect for the exercise of faith. Enter the politically-correct police, and all hell breaks loose.

The Boston Tea Party

Taxation

We all know the story of those feisty Bostonians who thumbed their noses at King George III and dumped all of that tea into the Harbor. Notwithstanding the Environmentalists and animal rights activists who would today eviscerate them in the press and then viciously sue them, their example of peacefully taking extreme measures to illustrate injustice has been lost on modern-day big government.

A 2011 Business Insider report finds the United States is tied with Sweden for being one of the two most heavily taxed countries in the world http://www.businessinsider.com/most-taxed-countries-in-the-world-2011-4?op=1, and the study doesn’t even include state, local, municipal or VAT taxes.

Americans pay more kinds of taxes than any other nation but enjoy fewer entitlements than their Western counterparts. Britain and Canada enjoy tax-paid perks like free birth control, health care, and prescription drugs. True, there may be longer wait times, but meanwhile statistically more people in England are receiving medical treatment right now and for free than in America, where a patient is first ushered to “Admitting” to prove their ability to pay before receiving any treatment. So what are we paying more taxes for, exactly?

 Limited government interference

Even the most basic tenant of freedom – the right to pursue happiness – is under threat of ambush as government regulations and taxation gobble up the last remnants of American entrepreneurialism, innovation and small business enterprise.

Thanks to The Patriot Act, Federal search and seizure laws make it easier for authorities to tap personal phones, browse email and social website pages and enter your home without a warrant under certain circumstances. Schools are ratcheting up the rules on displays of patriotism and faith.  The classic childhood memory of having a neighborhood lemonade stand is now illegal if the proper permits aren’t obtained. Children have actually been fined and shut down for doing what used to be a rite of passage. For one young Georgia girl, the police shut her down not only for a lack of the proper permit, but also because they “didn’t know how the lemonade was made, who made it or what was in it.” http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/07/15/main20079838.shtml Really?!

 Multiculturalism

Rather than embrace the melting pot that was once our proud heritage, the American workplace today has been progressively whitewashed to utterly eliminate all forms of cultural expression. Rather than integrating culture, the politically correct have devised a solution, and that is to ban all references to one’s culture at all. Today’s idea of “multiculturalism” is to deny all culture. A truly multicultural office would resemble the field offices of overseas NGOs, workplaces that embrace and respect the diversity of staff by allowing their cultures to shine through, not by banning all reference to it so that no one is offended. Culture enriches us and brings people together. But not in America, where everyone is “free.”

While we’re on the subject of work, people in the United States work more hours per week and take fewer vacation days than that of their European counterparts and yet are less productive. http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/aug2009/gb20090818_398605.htm

Compared to Europeans, who enjoy more paid days off and a month-long holiday every year, U.S. workers are more stressed, more tired, and less productive. It seems that the “workaholic” nonsense we’ve bought into has done nothing more than erode our health, our relationships and yes, our freedom.

 Equal Rights

 Frivolous lawsuits and quotas for minorities have led to a reverse discrimination of European dissent nationalities and preferential treatment towards Blacks and Hispanics. In many south and western U.S. airports, it’s not at all uncommon to encounter employees in customer service and security positions who speak no English whatsoever and yet several airports accommodate Muslims with prayer rooms and foot-washing stations. When was the last time you saw an airport accommodate a Jewish Synagogue, Hindu Temple or Christian Church?  Since the Equal Rights Amendment of 1972 failed to be ratified, we see increasing cases of power gained through sexual harassment litigation that subjects entire departments to undergo “sensitivity training.” Universities and colleges sell degrees in “Women’s Studies” that tend to promote a sense of solidarity through victimization. Courses on race relations tend to yield the same. These classes claim to enlighten and yes, even liberate, but instead result in instilling a sense of victimized entitlement, with graduates harboring some frustrated internal oppression that can only be relieved by oppressing some other group.

 Safety

In America we at least like to feel safe. So we’ve removed the schools’ and even parents’ ability to discipline our children and now they’re addicted to gruesomely violent video games that serve as anti-social nannies and we wonder why we have gated communities, guns in schools, children killing their parents, internet bullying that leads to teen suicide, and crazies holed up in their garage making bombs and plotting the destruction of the universe like that nut from Virginia Teach.

 Freedom of Anonymity

Americans take pride in the idea that we can go where we please and do what we want free from surveillance. We can conduct business, drive around, and hold conversations in privacy and relative anonymity.

Yet – It’s a known fact that today developments in technology enable the government to track your whereabouts at any time. The Patriot Act allows home phone tapping without a warrant. Questions on the U.S. Census as well as personal doctors now ask about the number and kind of firearms in your home, and doctors can legally withhold treatment if you don’t disclose such information.

Electric companies like Florida Power and Light are quietly finalizing plans to install –without your knowledge or consent – “smart meters” that will track every move you make in your own home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JNFr_j6kdI&feature=player_embedded. These meters are actually radio transmitters that will be able to tell what you’re up to in there, such as how late you’re awake, whether you’re cooking or watching television, how many people are at home and who’s taking a shower, and so forth. The power companies can also sell this information to other companies.

If passed by Congress, “black boxes” installed in cars will soon allow privileged groups to track your mileage, driving habits, speeds driven, and gasoline usage http://bradyreports.com/your-not-my-mother-the-rise-of-the-%E2%80%9Cnanny-state%E2%80%9D-in-america/. Changes to the U.S. Commerce Clause will fine people who sell old toys or other products (at yard sales or by other private means) if they do not comply with current Federal safety and environmental regulations.http://bradyreports.com/your-not-my-mother-the-rise-of-the-%E2%80%9Cnanny-state%E2%80%9D-in-america/. If passed, Congressional bill A.10129 would ban the use of all salt “in any form” in New York restaurant cooking and collect $1000 for violations http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/09/1000-salt-coming-to-new-york-r.

In 2010 alone, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles made $63 million selling the personal information of Florida drivers to the highest bidder. Information gathering databases including Lexus Nexus and Shadow Soft are among companies who paid for the name, address, birth date, and type of vehicle for the state’s 15.5 million registered drivers. These companies then sell the information again to other businesses. The Florida DMV claims that a Federal Mandate legalizes the sale of personal information with the exception of judges and police officers, who have the favored status of requesting that their information not be released.

America isn’t alone in cyber-security issues, but things called “cookies,” “super-cookies,” and “spy-bots” could very well be the final ingredient to shackle our freedoms and throw away the key. As of 2010, Facebook has 600 million subscribers worldwide. That’s a single database containing personal information run by a 27-year-old billionaire. Even when you sleep, your name, picture, address, friends’ names, the sites you visit, and more are being bought and used by companies.

After all this talk about how Americans are willingly giving up their last remnants of freedom, there remains an equally critical question that provides context to this whole equation:

 Is there such a thing as too much freedom?

In her book, You Learn by Living, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

Americans have lost sight of that.

We’re in a most perplexing time in history. On one hand, many Americans want the Federal government to play the role of parent: guiding, moralizing, teaching, regulating, and supporting us. On the other hand, these are the same folks who voraciously argue that we should be free to do absolutely anything and everything our emotions, desires and urges dictate: if these people could wave a magic wand, society would be a strange dual-dimension of existence between strict government regulation and complete social abandon. In order to reconcile these seemingly opposed systems, the highest order of the land would be the right to be free from all personal accountability and the right to be protected from the consequences of one’s own stupidity.

 What the heck happened?

Today’s society is so obsessed with ensuring that every interest group has its share of recognition and validation that we’ve libertized ourselves full circle right back into oppression. Somewhere along the line, we became so afraid to stand for anything, that we opted to stand for nothing.  For decades, Americans have felt increasingly guilty for living better than most people on earth, and we bought into the idea that our success is bad, as though it wasn’t earned.  We’ve fallen for the lie that freedom is a finite commodity, and that if you choose to live your life by a certain set of values and ideals, that you’ve somehow used up the choices for someone else: that if you believe in God, you’re sucking up all the air from those who choose not to; that if you raise your children to value marriage and family, you’re pro-actively blocking someone else from believing otherwise.

The opportunities for freedom are boundless. For all the talk there is of wanting more “choice” in life, there is now actually less of it: more than ever before in our nation’s history, the Federal government is making more and more choices for you and on an increasingly personal level.  What’s most alarming is that this is happening with the full consent of the American people.

If America continues on the path of turning to the government for all the answers, freedom will quietly gasp its last breath and like a flame, flicker out while we’re busy being mesmerized by the latest reality show.

That is not to end on a note of doom and gloom with no hope, but on the contrary, to wake us all up. The salient question that everyone should ask themselves is, “Is America worth saving?” If the answer is a resounding, “YES!” then there is – irrefutably – hope out there somewhere.

Humbly, I leave you with the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote/thomas_jefferson_quote_35ee

“We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debt…[we will] have no time to think,…but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers… And this is the tendency of all human governments… till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery… And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.” http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote/thomas_jefferson_quote_0564

 — Stephanie Maier