This trite catchphrase was originally devised to give thanks and appreciation to our military, stating in effect that the freedom we enjoy is only possible through the sacrifices of our armed forces. However, it is cynically used by hawkish foreign policy interventionists as an excuse for defense spending and war-making. The land of the free is a common descriptor of the United States and freedom is the battle cry of people around the world living in tyranny. Many politicians of a Libertarian bent use freedom as the backbone of their limited government philosophy. But how free are we really?
In the United States, you can’t drive a car without obtaining a driver’s license; a state-administered examination and registration to include photo so they know who and where you are. Of course, you must pay for this privilege, as well as paying to register the car and paying the sales or property taxes. The car now has a tag or license plate on it, which provides the state with the information they need to know who and where you are.
To earn a living you will need a Social Security Number–a number that will identity you for life–and you must tell the employer how much they will withhold in Federal Income Taxes by declaring exemptions. Payroll taxes will be withdrawn from every check as well. The state and federal government now know where you are employed, how much you earn, and how many dependents you claim to have. If you are among the fortunate who purchase a home, you will pay for the privilege in the form of property taxes each year, and there will be a thorough record of your purchase on file with the local and state governments.
Certainly being free in the United States is an expensive proposition, and comes with significant subjugation to local, state and federal government. But that’s just scratching the surface, especially when it comes to our civil liberties. After 9/11/2001 the Federal Government passed the USA Patriot Act, providing broad new powers of surveillance to law enforcement. They also started a covert wireless surveillance program, discovered by the New York Times, where they spied on average American citizens without a warrant in violation of our Fourth Amendment rights. Massive telecommunications companies provided data mining access to the government, giving them complete access to phone records of every American.
The Supreme Court of the United States just ruled that citizens may be strip-searched for any violation or infraction of the law, no matter how minor. While this may sound like a direct infringement upon our constitutional right to privacy as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, SCOTUS seems to have sidestepped it in a 5-4 split decision, split along fairly ideological lines.
Air travel in the United States has become a dehumanizing violation of our rights to privacy as we get body scanned, patted down, have our water bottles discarded, wallets and purses rifled through, all without even a smile.
President Barack Obama recently signed indefinite detention without charge into law. This allows the government to pick up any citizen–although Obama issued a signing statement that his administration wouldn’t use the law against American citizens–and hold them indefinitely, without ever charging them of a crime. This outrage upon human liberty flies in the face of what the United States Constitution stands to protect; the rights of the citizenry against an overreaching government. Whatever accomplishments this President may add to his resume during his tenure as Chief Executive, this salvo against freedom and justice will be forever part of his legacy.
The USA Patriot Act also includes provisions to quell free speech by labeling anyone who is a political protester and commits a minor infraction of the law, for example blocking pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk, to be labeled a Domestic Terrorist.
Limitations on our freedom aren’t all in the name of security as the 2012 Presidential campaign has had significant religious overtones, causing Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to say that it’s the most invasive religion has been in our politics since his tenure as director of Americans United began in 1992. I attended a talk Rev. Lynn gave today in Charleston, SC and he provided his Top Ten reasons why he thinks this year’s campaign has been all about religion. Perhaps the most obvious attempted intrusions into our private lives by the parties of God this year came from the Catholic Church, who decided that providing women with medically prescribed birth control was unconstitutional. The shaky legal basis for their argument is that the government would be forcing Catholic employers like schools and hospitals to provide birth control coverage as part of their employee’s health plans, against the wishes of the Supreme Pontiff. The Church cried that the government was infringing upon their religious freedom. The reality is that the Church wanted to infringe upon the citizenry’s freedoms and take away their right to have prescription medications paid for by their health insurance, solely because it didn’t jive with their “every sperm is sacred” dogma. This nonsense peaked during CPAC when Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, forgot all about the ideological differences his faith has with the Vatican and cried out, “We’re ALL Catholics now.”
Another controversial attempt at restricting the freedom of the citizenry came from the State of Virginia and made national news with its state-mandated vaginal penetration of any woman seeking an abortion. The legislature passed a bill that would require any woman seeking to get an abortion obtain a medically unnecessary ultrasound first, and if the abortion was very early in the pregnancy, the ultrasound would have to be transvaginal, raising the serious question that if a woman’s vagina was penetrated against her will by the State, had she just been raped by the State of VA? For a few weeks, Americans got to see and hear the word transvaginal several times each day. The bill was ultimately changed, which is a testament to the power the American people still have when they choose to use it, and which illustrates the true cost of freedom: the necessity to fight for it.
While true freedom exists perhaps only in theory, the protections offered us by the Constitution, the liberty to exercise our rights, desires, speech and our conscience, as well as move about without undue restrictions is as close to freedom as we can get and still be a member of a large society of diverse human beings like the United States. We must all fight to prevent the erosion of our hard-earned liberties, especially in the name of security. As Benjamin Franklin so astutely put it, “those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” But it isn’t just security as those who would seek to impose their moral code of ethics upon the rest of us are freedom thieves as well. The true defenders of freedom will always have to stand up to this age-old attempt at tyranny.