Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 383, September 3, 2006

"It's the end of the 8000-year Age of Authority."


Freedom a la Carte
by Lady Liberty

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

When I first decided to create a web site, it took me about 30 seconds to decide that I wanted to focus on freedom. Just about 30 seconds after that, I realized I had a problem: the topic was just too big. After further consideration, I decided that I would confine my efforts to the Constitution and the first ten of its Amendments, the Bill of Rights.

It wasn't long, of course, before I realized that even such a "narrow" concentration involved a vast number of possibilities. But the decision having been made, I decided to compensate by working only with news and current events, political commentary, and educational issues. Obviously, I'm in no danger of running short of material any time soon!

Just because I determined the scope of my web site would include a fairly broad spectrum doesn't mean I don't have a few "pet" causes of my own. Aside from the fact that I couldn't possibly afford to financially support every pro-freedom organization that's worthy of such support, I also realize it would be impossible to have enough hours in the day to learn what I'd need to know and to be the activist I ought to be on behalf of that wide variety of groups and causes.

So my own personal areas of greatest effort tend to involve either First or Second Amendment issues (though matters of national sovereignty have become serious and frightening enough that I've begun paying close attention to those, too). Other people may involve themselves in such things as property rights, or searches and seizures; still more activists might refine their interests even further to include just one aspect of the First Amendment such as freedom of speech, or a single facet of the Fourth Amendment like drunk driving checkpoints.

Although there are never enough people or dollars to really get everything done that each of these many causes need to have done, progress does get made through the hard work of the many who volunteer support. As a result of that very support, though, many other causes go unremarked or are at least undersupported. As busy as I am, I must confess that I understand all too well the person who simply doesn't have time to expand his or her efforts to encompass still another worthy area of civil liberty. What I don't understand, though, are those whose own focus seems to result in a passive or even an active effort to shut down other avenues toward freedom in which they personally have no interest or of which they, for whatever reason, disapprove.

There are, for example, those who focus on the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause. They work tirelessly to demand that prayers are included in public school classrooms and during local government meetings; they fight to erect and maintain Ten Commandments monuments on public ground. On occasion, they may even engage in the misuse of other constitutional guarantees by exercising eminent domain to put big crosses under federal jurisdiction so that repeated rulings against said big crosses can't be enforced. Another vocal and rapidly growing grassroots campaign involves the efforts to have the states define marriage as between a man and a woman and, advocates hope, by the federal government in the near future as well.

While activists have every right to pick and choose their focus, these activists are making a big mistake in discounting the freedoms of others while they ostensibly work toward their own. To permit only certain prayers and symbols on government property and during government proceedings effectively endorses a religion, something specifically prohibited within the Constitution. Though the ongoing legal battle involving the Mt. Soledad cross has the support of many, the San Diego Jewish Times got it right when it took note that the supporters cared more for Christianity than for freedom.

This may, of course, make Christians perfectly happy. But once such a precedent has been set, what's to stop more government displays or tacit endorsements they won't find so congenial? What's to stop the government from picking and choosing between various sects of Christianity? Will something as personal as birth control be subject to some morality clause or another based on a religion that either allows it or doesn't? And should the states determine that marriage is solely between a man and a woman, won't that interfere directly with the determination of those churches that have already decided otherwise? And with another religious interference precedent set, won't the government be able to decide something else in the future that these advocates won't like quite so much?

I'll freely confess that I find fewer groups more difficult to understand than those who are adamantly opposed to firearms. A relative few intentionally misuse statistics in their misguided mission to repeal the Second Amendment, but hundreds of thousands believe them; perhaps their most effective tool is fear. And yet to keep and gain converts to the cause, some kind of rational argument must be used, and one fairly common attempt at logic is this: The Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment at a time when guns were single-shot muskets. The development of today's high powered semi-auto or full auto firearms negates the protections penned at a simpler time.

What these advocates fail to grasp is that if their argument is actually accepted, they'll set an appalling precedent for freedoms they might find more acceptable to them. If modern firearms aren't included in the intent of the Second Amendment, then how can the First Amendment protect free speech on radio, television, or the Internet? If semi-automatic weapons don't fall under the right to keep and bear arms, then how can the Fourth Amendment be applied to cars, telephone calls, or computer hard drives? If the Second Amendment doesn't address handguns with large capacity magazines, then can any of us rightfully expect that the Ninth Amendment could possibly apply to a right to privacy that would preclude embedded RFID chips?

There are more than a few people who are less than happy at the effective suspension of the Fourth Amendment in connection with the War on Terror. While the authorities insist that some leeway must be allowed to facilitate intelligence-gathering and the like, many are less than convinced (for the record, I'm one of them). They organize opposition to the PATRIOT Act and its provision for "secret" searches; they rally to support librarians who have (rightfully, as far as I'm concerned) refused to cooperate with less than a warrant.

Yet these very same people won't bat an eye when their high school students are randomly drug tested or have their lockers searched. They consider taking a drug test part and parcel of the conditions of their own employment. They even think that drunk driving checkpoints—which typically catch very few drunk drivers but give the police an ironclad excuse to poke and prod into the cars of those not suspected of anything—are a fine and civilized idea. They apparently hold these diametrically opposed notions without realizing that their acceptance of drug tests, school searches, and checkpoints are what emboldened the authorities to take such liberties in the War on Terror.

The point that I'm trying to make here should be obvious by now: No matter your own area of special interest, no matter the issues you consider your "hot button" topics, failing to defend all freedom—or at least refusing to be an obstacle to liberty—is the only way that the liberties you personally love most will be preserved. And focusing too narrowly on your own cause may mean that you'll fail to consider the repercussions for other freedoms that are important to others, and frankly just as valuable a part of the whole as the segment you've selected as your own cause.

The freedoms you choose to exercise are just that: a choice. You may worship—or not—as you see fit. You can read or watch whatever you find illuminating or entertaining. You can speak out to educate or inspire others, to criticize the government itself, or simply to join your voice to that of others; if you prefer, you need not speak at all. You can own and use a firearm (unless, of course, you live in some small part of America where local authorities have already decided you don't deserve to be able to defend yourself), or you can refuse to have anything to do with a gun.

Currently threatened freedoms include—well, pretty much all of them. So feel free (while you still can) to pick and choose those you're willing to expend time, money, energy, and passion preserving. But never, even for a moment, forget that those you're not focused on are important in ways you may not even know until the lesson comes too late. Whatever you personally believe or appreciate is your own passion, but if you allow your zeal to curtail the liberties of others, you lose. Even when you win in the short term, you lose. And when you lose, we all do.

Now available: Eternal Vigilance: The Best of Lady Liberty 2002-2004 Exclusively from Visit today for news, commentary, and a patriotic goodie shoppe.
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