Saturday, July 21, 2012

Defining values by what we hate defiles liberty

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist

Born Free
The song goes, “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart.”   Freedom is feeling and conscious belief.  It shapes our society.  Modern Liberty, by Charles Fried, describes both the emotional-intuitive and the rational side of freedom.  Is more freedom always better, the paramount goal, and what we really want?

In West Virginia State Board Of Education versus Barnette (1943), the Supreme Court condemned a law requiring that children recite the pledge of allegiance, writing:  “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act by their faith therein.”
In Planned Parenthood versus Casey (1992) concerning abortion restrictions, Justice Kennedy wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life.”

These examples acknowledge freedom of the mind, conscience, and self-determination as important elements in liberty.

More Freedom
Freedom is to do as we wish and go where we will, but only if we do not harm others.  It is not spontaneous individual action, permissive recklessness, the unencumbered self, the ideal of democracy, or revoking business regulations that protect the public.  It is not the availability of materialistic choices, and is more than independence from others.  It is a competition between individual and collective interests, between absence of coercion, means, and opportunity.  Group control is necessary to prevent self-interest from creating feuds that destroy the cooperation requisite to civilized behavior.  When business and their super-packs become “people” we indirectly pay for their negative ads.  Their propaganda employs a nebulous freedom and emotional patriotism, using them as indoctrinating tools.

Ideology gives the true believer a sense of purpose and worth through identification with a true cause.  It does not exist to serve the individual.  They serve it.  Ideology knows what mankind is supposed to become and what we were designed to do while asserting freedom as its purpose.  It teaches an unchanging absolute truth.  It claims the only correct interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ philosophy and religion while ignoring the social, cultural, and political realities of their time.

Self-governing liberty, by agreed upon laws of our own making, is the degree to which individual freedom becomes typical.  It is the triumph of the individual over the masses that would compel the minority to conform.  Liberty has political, civil, and economic dimensions that cannot be maximized while reducing government control.  It is not majority vote.  The “will of the American people” can become an excuse for government repression.  Individual liberty takes precedence over the collective, but individuals cannot be truly free without being responsible.  Fanatics fear liberty more than persecution and the truth more than the devil.

Opportunity and means are necessary to carry out free will.  Liberty requires stability, security, trust, mutual respect, a reasonable distribution of wealth, and paths for personal improvement, allowing planning one’s future.  Government has a duty to promote the welfare of the people so they can become free.

We feel increasingly equal when we are all on the same boat; though forcing our presence there compromises our freedom.  The equality of human worth does not mean identity or refer to skills. There will always be differences and perceived unfairness but that does not justify envy.  There will always be the poor, but we will be our brother’s keeper instead of competitor?

Rights are the facets of liberty that should be protected by law.  They are often fought for instead of given.  We have a right to defend against those who try to use us and no right to use others.  Our rights do not come from or depend on the state, but the state enforces and determines the content and details of those rights.  Without individual rights there can be no liberty, but individual liberty requires the support and constraint of others.

Laws reflect the wisdom that comes with learning how to live together.  When conservatives want to reverse what they interpret as radical legislation from the Supreme Court bench, they would destroy our hard-earned knowledge that comes from the trial and error of history.  Laws can come from and be about special interest groups, even implying the reconstruction of society and human nature.  Equal opportunity is reverse discrimination and freedom is slavery to responsibility.
Slippery socialism is not what is threatening freedom.  Consider:

Free Speech
The bumper sticker reads “Welcome to America, now speak English”.  Language is a tool for thinking and is the embodiment of culture and values.  To restrict that is to deny the individuality and heritage of a person.

It is not a case of a minority forcing their language on the majority.  Democracy allows voting for “English only” but that denies choice and authorizes government repression.  English needs no defense, but free speech needs to be defended from property rights.  The public library has designated free-speech regions because freedom means both freedom to speak and the public’s freedom to hear, and it requires a place to be.

When America chooses to define its values by what it hates, it reveals to the world that it is willing to defile liberty.  Gay marriage is an issue of equality.  Sexual orientation is about freedom.  People’s sex lives are their own business.  What bothers conservatives is that homosexuals might be recognized and allowed, but liberty disavows any persecution of homosexuals.  Constitutional changes to force a definition of marriage down our throats are not more freedom.  It is like making sex for purposes other than procreation illegal so that citizens won’t be tempted.

Empowering Women
In the 1920 debate over women’s right to vote, Benjamin Hubbard wrote, “The Feminist, instead of having the affections of a normal woman and a regard for duty, has no affection for either man, child, church, state or God.  She is a moral anarchist, obsessed by her personal importance and vanity.”

A political organization, called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), and the Republicans, intrude on women’s health, desiring to defund Planned Parenthood and prescribe viewing of abortion movies.

The Roman Catholic Church was the unchallenged authority on political, economic, and social matters prior to the time of the Reformation.  It exerted great power over the lives of people and exercised the right to interpret the Bible and provide the final word on the meaning of the scriptures.  The church was the divinely appointed custodian of the truth.

The New England Puritans were influenced by the Calvinist school of theology.  All of man’s actions, thoughts, and feelings bore moral significance and were screened to determine whether they were in accordance with the will of God.  Thus the Puritan lived in a glass city under the constant supervision by spiritual police.

Liberty is fundamental and given by Nature’s God.  Without morality society becomes cruel, regressive, and disordered.  Christian soldiers are free when they are obedient to the moral order established by God, even if that denies kindness, compassion, and the respect for the liberty of others to make wise, informed choices.  What they want is to force the lifestyle they feel is best for America.

Contraception and Health
The issue regards how Catholics treat non-Catholics.  They believe that religious liberty gives them the right to discriminate against women who use contraception.  This is about religion using the power of the state to influence, versus the desires of some to be free of that kind of influence.

Nobody forces Catholics to take birth control pills.  They don’t approve of and will not tolerate your using them.  You could be fired for using birth control for contraception or required to prove that your miscarriage was accidental. Your individual freedom does not intrude on their liberty to not use birth control.  When you spill your soda pop in the ocean, you do not own the ocean and when ECT denies birth control it has no right to intrude upon the health of non-Catholic women.

The Affordable Care Act requires everyone to buy insurance.  Individual freedom is compromised to a social responsibility to provide for the sick, old, and poor.  The state takes care of those who gamble their future.  The law requires that they be treated in the hospital emergency room even though they have no insurance or money.  It is not free enterprise when the insured pay several percent of the price asked of the uninsured.  Those of us who have insurance end up paying for those who have none.

Intellectual Freedom
When does education become indoctrination?  HB 2562 wants to sneak the Bible into K-12 classrooms under the guise of academics while ignoring the contributions coming from other religions.  It is not academic freedom because the politicians want to take charge and in a kaleidoscope of repressive, intimidating bills decree classroom language, prevent liberal bias, deny global warming, and restrict supplemental books and magazines that they consider threatening to conservative ideology.

Republicans argue that American culture is religious fundamentalism and that our youth are losing their moral foundation and souls.  They would return us to the time of the Pilgrims, when there was no separation between church and state, a time before Ben Franklin’s practical vocational academies started to undo the theocratic caste system.

The Rev. John Cotton Mather, during the colonial period, claimed that children were “of death, of hell, of wrath”.  They were predestined to burn in Hell just as most adults and were born essentially bad.  Jefferson, Franklin, Locke, and Rousseau would not agree.   Republicans feel that the state knows better and must become involved in teaching their morality.

Conservatives claim a liberal bias if Intelligent Design (ID) cannot be taught in the classroom, and they argue this on the basis of critical thinking and teaching the controversy, but ID does not come from the recognized scientific establishment and it is hard to find a job using it.  Legitimate science recognizes no controversy to critique.

With Liberty and Justice for All
The intent of a law bears on whether it aims for liberty or is a grab for power and money.  Liberty exists though it is hypocritical to claim that it can be quantified.  Intent is hard to prove.  It exists in the eye of the beholder who sees injustice, persecution, and conspiracy behind everything he disagrees with.  Critical thinking about freedom is important if we are not to lose the moral high ground when the world concludes that we do not care about the liberty of our own people.

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