Monday, June 28, 1999

Week of 06/28/1999

Defending The Undefendable
The True Measure Of Freedom

- by David Matthews 2

You know, every time around the Fourth of July, I think for a moment about some of the things that makes America great. Why is it that people would still be willing to risk their lives to come here?

The first response, naturally, is money. The economy is strong, especially as we enter into this new electronic age. Jobs are plentiful if you know where to look and what you want to do. Opportunities aren’t as plentiful elsewhere.

But the second reason has to be freedom. The freedom to live your life the way you want to, without having the government tell you what to do. People from more repressed countries like China and the former Soviet Union talk about being able to enjoy things in America that they couldn’t elsewhere. They couldn’t enjoy them because their governments decided they couldn’t.

Freedom is a pretty dangerous concept. People yearning to be free have literally torn down walls build by governments. Just look at what happened to the Berlin Wall ten years ago.

However, freedom comes with a price. Vigilance is one price of freedom, and probably the one that you hear the most. But there is one other price that comes with freedom that you probably haven’t heard too much of.. tolerance.

Freedom brings more than one option for people. That’s something that people seem to forget. I have often said that freedom is not just limited to what is considered to be acceptable, but I wonder just how many people realize the implications of that.

The freedom of speech, to be able to speak your mind, has been attacked more times than any other freedom. The ability to speak your mind and express yourself has been challenged by people who say that saying anything that isn’t considered "appropriate" is evil. Liberals call it "hate speech." Conservatives call it "obscene." And both sides seem determined to define what is and is not considered "speech."

The freedom of religion also has a history of being attacked. Theocrats proclaim America to be a "Christian nation" while bemoaning their inability to put those symbols of their dominance into every aspect of society. They claim "persecution," while their supporters in Congress move to limit other religions from expressing themselves in a like manner. The ink wasn’t even dry on the Bill of Rights when states like Virginia began passing laws that outlawed Quakers from practicing their religions. Fast forward to today, when Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia began demanding that the armed forces no longer recognize the Wiccan religion.

In each case, the problem has been the same: a domineering group trying to dictate what should and should not be considered "acceptable."

And let’s face it, a lot of stuff that is under fire is considered to be controversial. It doesn’t matter if the subject involves sex, objectionable speech, or different religious practices.. a majority of the public don’t care for it. That’s why they’re so eager to see such things outlawed. It doesn’t change their lives, so why should they give a damn?

Let’s get brutally honest here.. there is NO freedom without the freedom to choose that which isn’t mainstream. Any government, even the most extremely tyrannical, can proclaim they have freedom for that which they deem to be "acceptable." But real freedom also means being able to choose something which you may object to.

That’s why I have some respect for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, even though I may object to some of the causes they support. They at least have a notion of what real freedom is and are willing to fight for it. Very few politicians, and even fewer special interest groups, can make that kind of a claim.

Here’s the real irony: In defending these ideas that aren’t considered "mainstream," these groups are also preserving that which IS considered to be "mainstream." Oh sure you may object to Playboy, but what about Sports Illustrated and their annual swimsuit edition? How about lingerie ads on TV and in the Sunday pullouts? Think those images would be safe? You may think that so-called "hate speech" is objectionable, but what is to stop those same people in government from then going after speech that simply questions the government? Don’t think it can’t happen? The very same arguments used to curb "objectionable" material can also be used to curb that which you and I may consider to be "mainstream."

So on this Fourth of July, amidst the fireworks and patriotic-sounding sound bites by our elected officials, I want you to think about the freedoms we enjoy, and reflect on what being free REALLY means. Or as Thomas Paine said it best: "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it."

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