I have recently given a lot of thought to the concept of personal liberty. In the lead up to the 2016 elections, it seems as relevant a conversation as ever.
Sadly, no matter where you look, you will find someone attempting to imposing their will or belief system on others. The Christian opposes the marriage of a gay couple because it is a sin according to the Bible, even though the Bible is not meant to be a standard for those who do not follow its teachings.
The Atheist wants to remove any mention of belief in God from the public sphere. For example, there is a continuous effort to remove the motto “In God we Trust” from US currency, even though polls show that less than 15% of the population of the United States does not adhere to any religion.
Students at Universities across the country are protesting to have comedians banned. Many are campaigning to have certain words banned from use on campus. Some have gone as far as to say that freedom of speech should not be allowed if it might be perceived as “emotionally hurtful.”
There is such an emphasis on avoiding offense that, ironically, people are being called all kinds of horrible things in an effort to curb the use of offensive words. Terms with serious connotations and historical significance, such as “racist,” “homophobe,” and many others (that I will not write here) are thrown around on a whim.
From what I can see, this trend is about control. It’s merely a new “coat of paint” on an old aspect of human nature, forced conformity. It’s an attempt to force people into a particular belief system because that system is currently “in vogue.” It may even be right. But how often, throughout history, have tragedies occurred on the back of attempts to force what some considered “right”?
Should the “right” course of action or the “right” point of view be dictated? if so, who gets to decide what is censored? Who gets to have the power to choose what’s right and wrong?
Has there ever been a satisfactory outcome when ideas – especially those opposed to the status quo – were suppressed? What comes next? When people refuse to be censored, what is the next step?
If history is any indication, what comes after censorship of speech is violence.
First, those in power crack down on the brave few who speak out then against any who even have the potential to speak out: the artists, writers, and historians – any who could undermine their credibility.
The next step is the violent suppression of all who do not fit in the collective mold of how things should be. After all, they are “horrible bigots” or “climate change deniers,” or …insert whatever counter-culture concept they don’t like, here.
At the heart of almost every controversial social discussion we have today, you will find someone trying to force someone else to think or act a certain way.
How can this happen in a nation literally founded on the idea of individual liberty? A nation founded by men who made statements like “Give me Liberty, or give me death!”.
Os Guinness (sociologist, author, and social critic) once said, “in a convulsion of the global era, the most precious thing is human dignity. What is it that expresses and protects human dignity? Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion… and the arena that enhances that is the civil public square.”
By “the civil public square,” Dr. Guinness is referring to the ability of people from many backgrounds, in any community, with various beliefs and values, to come together and discuss issues, to debate ideas, and to let those ideas rise or fall on their merit. Sometimes the views one holds will triumph… sometimes they will fail to live up to scrutiny, but the ability to discuss a controversial concept is key for any stable society.
I believe we all want the freedom to live our lives how we see fit. Whether it’s the ability to defend our homes or to love whomever we choose, the freedom to worship within our chosen religion, or the freedom to walk away from it without fear of retribution, we each want to be free to do what’s best for ourselves and our families. We must have the freedom to express our thoughts without censorship or fear of legal recourse for having a “wrong” opinion.
Ayn Rand wrote that the “smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” When we decide to limit people’s freedoms, when we pull at the “threads” of the rights of the individual, we’ll soon find the entire “tapestry” unravels into tribalism and despotism.
“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” – John Adams