Monday, June 12, 2006


Freedom means getting the NSA out of our telephones and away from our e-mails

“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.”

Me and Bobby McGee, sung by Janis Joplin, lyrics by Kris Kristofferson. (c) 1969.

We Americans aren’t shy about using the words “free” and “freedom,” especially as July 4th approaches and we celebrate the official birth of our country with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, lo these 230 years ago. So last week I read with interest the winning essay from a local church school contest, “What Freedom Means to Me.” The essay was well written, contained quotes from eminent scholars, and appeared to be grammatically correct. But the following phrase, which pretty much characterized the spirit of the essay, chilled me: “Freedom is the right and ability to do what I should do, not what I always want to do.”

I thought about those words, then analyzed them. The “right” to do what I should do isn’t a “right” at all- it’s an obligation. The “ability” to do what I should do merely means that one is capable of fulfilling obligations and responsibilities. Neither has anything to do with freedom. So why did the local church give top prize to the youth who wrote the essay? The answer, most likely, is found in the following passage near the end of the essay:

“Our founding fathers stated in the Declaration of Independence that we ‘are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.’ Therefore, freedom is God’s gift to mankind. The Bible says in John 88:31-32 that is ‘you continue in My word, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ So what is truth? The Bible further clarifies this in John 17:17 where it says ‘Thy word is truth.’”

The essay never tells us what freedom is. It tells us where the author thinks freedom comes from- it’s from the creator, i.e., from natural law, as opposed to man made law. The author claims that the way to achieve freedom is by knowing “truth.” (And I thought that’s what the justice system was designed to do!) But the essay never defines freedom. And that’s a shame, because virtually every school child- even a church schooled child- knows without a shadow of a doubt what freedom is. And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the author of this essay, when free of the strictures of a religious environment, has no problem recognizing and defining “freedom.”

Freedom is the feeling you get when the school bell rings for the last time before Summer recess. Lack of freedom is the feeling you get the night before school resumes.

Freedom is flying an open cockpit plane in an era with no FAA, no flight plans, and no air traffic. Lack of freedom is sitting in a car in an I-85/I-75 gridlock in downtown Atlanta.

Freedom is being home with ice cream waiting in the freezer, popcorn in the cupboard, and a satellite dish on a Fall Sunday with a pro football doubleheader coming on. Lack of freedom is being stuck at a Fascist inspired summer camp with boring programmed activities, crappy food, and no television.

Freedom is the right to worship anywhere or nowhere without penalty, the opportunity to question the existence of a deity without being imprisoned or murdered, the right of a woman to appear in public without a head covering or burka and a man to have a clean shaven face without being beaten or killed. Lack of freedom is the opposite of those things.

Freedom is making a telephone call or writing an e-mail and knowing that the government won’t eavesdrop.

Freedom is living in a home without the police breaking down the front door because an unidentified informant claimed that someone had an illegal substance in the house next door, but the drug unit read the address wrong and busted into your house instead while the drug dealer stood next to one of the drug agents and looked on (a real case of mine, circa 1994). Freedom is being able to put your small children to bed knowing that they won’t be awakened in the middle of the night with police pointing guns in their faces (same case).

Freedom is reading anything, good, bad, trashy or inspiring. Lack of freedom is having harpies with too much time on their hands trying to ban books that might lead children to think.

Freedom is the ability to date a person of a different race or the same gender. It’s being a member of a minority group while driving a really cool car on Interstate 75 through Lowndes County without being stopped by the Sheriff’s Department and held for a half hour waiting for the drug dog to come sniff the door panels and trunk.

Freedom is being able to pick up and move to a different city, a different state, or a different country, and not needing permission.

Freedom is not being locked up in a jail or prison for having the wrong political beliefs, the wrong religious beliefs, the wrong nationality, or the wrong looks.

But let’s let old Long Tom, Thomas Jefferson, have the last word:

“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. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

There you have it. Freedom is having our lives, our liberty, and the opportunity to pursue “Happiness.” Or in other words, eating ice cream on a Sunday afternoon while the Steelers pummel the Colts on their way to the Super Bowl.


Anonymous Ben said...

Well said.

10:40 PM  

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