One of the things that I frequently see in online discussions is the concept of a "free" nation. But what exactly does that mean?
Let's start with the Declaration of Independence. The words "free", "Independent", or "liberty", with a reference to people, is included as follows:
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- ... is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
- That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States
The primary theme of the declaration is to seek freedom from an opressive ruler, being King George III. It says that all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are free to make their choices in persuit of happiness, and should otherwise be equal.
Let's take a look at the Constitution. Of some note is in no location in the original portion of the constitution does it include the word free, except to distinguish a free person vs a slave. The first 10 amendments, known as the "Bill of Rights", contain a list of specific freedoms given to people namely that Congress shall not issue laws that:
- respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
- abridging the freedom of speech
- [abridging the freedom] of the press
- [abridging] the right of the people peaceably to assemble
- [abridging the right of the people peaceably] to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
There are more things included, including the right to bear arms, a speedy trial, be tried, excess bail, etc. Of some note is the 5th ammendment, which states "nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;"
So does this mean that anyone can do anything they want without consequence, because we are a free people? Absolutely not! I would not want to live in that world, it would be a scary place indeed, anyone could kill anyone, or take anything, with no consequences at all! There are many specific things that in fact Congress can do that seem to infringe on the rights of the people, such as taxation.
So what does it really mean to be a free nation then? In my mind, it comes back to the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and they all have the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, freedom means that everyone is equal, and they have the right to life, freedom to do with their lives what they please (So long as it doesn't conflict with other's rights), and the ability to pursue happiness.
Let's have some fun here. Which of these activities should the government be able to restrict, given that the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are guarentees from the Declaration of Independence?
- OSHA regulations
- Travel between states
- Restaurant health and safety
- Restaurant choice of menus
- Restricting gatherings due to a pandemic
- Requiring mask wearing in public during a pandemic
- Requiring a person to wear clothing in public
- Manditory vaccinations
- Public Education
- Having firearms in your home
- Carrying firearms in public
While each of these could be explained in much more detail, let me give my short scorecard. The government has no ability to regulate restaurant menu choices, what you do in your own home (So long as it doesn't affect other people or yourself), having firearms (So long as you don't use them against a person), or even travel between states. In the interest of protecting life of the innocent, I believe they do have the ability to make laws to prevent murder, OSHA regulations, restricting gatherings (So long as they apply generally, and do not specifically affect the press, religion, or addressing grevances against the government), slavery, manditory vaccinations, and restaurant health and safety. To protect the pursuit of happiness, they have the ability to make laws in regard to public education, slavery, theft, carrying firearms in public (To an extent), and others.
Of some note, by that test I would say the government has more power to make laws to make a person wear a mask in public during a pandemic than it does to make you wear clothing in normal times. Just something to think about. Note that I am NOT proposing that clothing should be optional in public, but...
The next time that you think of a law as restricting your freedom, ask yourself if it protects the life, liberty, or persuit of happiness of others. If a law meets that threshold, then it is worthy of consideration. If it does not, and restricts your freedom, then it should probably not be a law.