Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Reality of Freedom: Part 1

Hey there folks.  Sorry it’s been a while since my last post.  I had my spring break and had quite a few things to take care of while I was waiting for inspiration.  Hopefully I can come back with something you all want to read.

Today I’m starting the first in a multiple part series entitled “The Reality of Freedom”, concerning “freedom” and what it really is and means in America.  What do people think it means?  What do people think it entails?  What is actually happening?  I mean to address a wide range of issues.  As always, I would appreciate comments and feedback, as I look to encourage discussion and want to hear things I may have overlooked or forgotten.

The US has made a point of promoting itself and the land of freedom.  We tell other countries around the world to be like us, we take action (sometimes) when we think they’re too far off, and even use it as a convenient excuse as to why a lot of people around the world hate us.  (Think George W. Bush “They hate us for our freedom”.)   But how free are we really?  I argue that the myth and, for lack of a better work, propaganda about our freedom has gone beyond the realities of life, and this is dangerous.  We are constantly told that this is a free country.  That we should be happy to we have the things we have.  We are also constantly bombarded with cries that the government is trying to take away this freedom, or protecting that freedom.  I’m going to take a look at the legal freedoms we have, along with implied and more intangible measures of freedom.

I’ll start where any discussion of freedom in the US should begin, with the Bill of Rights.  It is the foundational document for protecting the freedom of American citizens, and also the source of quite a lot of controversy.

The Reality of Freedom

Part 1: The Bill of Rights

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment is probably the most often discussed, along with the second.  It creates the establishment clause, commonly understood as the separation of church and state, the free exercise clause (freedom of religion), the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition.  Although it seems pretty straight forward, there are multitudes of issues that arise in the application of these principles.  “How can you argue with these most basic American values?” you might wonder.  Honestly, I don’t have to.  The government and others do plenty for me.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

This line has been always been read as the separation of church and state.  Congress cannot dictate a religion to the citizens.  In its time, this was a direct reaction to the former mother country.  England had a colorful history of the state religion changing with every other monarch, and the people were always forced to change with them.  This line was meant directly to combat this changing and all the trouble that went with it.  It was been interpreted also to prevent the government from even favoring one religion over another.  Right off the bat we have a problem.  I touched on this in one of my earliest posts about Republican hypocrisy.  A large portion of the GOP directly argues against this value.  Politicians such as Rick Santorum openly base their careers and policies off of their religious values.  Now, I understand that your morals will be based in part off your belief system, and I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing.  The point is that they openly state that the US is a “Christian Nation” while passing legislation that forces their religious moral codes upon millions and millions people who don’t agree.  Republicans are waging a war on contraceptives and abortion because their religious codes don’t like it.  How is this different than a monarch forcing people to attend a certain church or dress a certain way because of their beliefs?  Answer: It isn’t.  True, they aren’t passing laws officially declaring a state religion, but their constant promoting of “Christian” values and attacks on Islam clearly show a bias or favoritism of one religion over another.  A politician’s religion shouldn’t matter in the job, but have you ever seen a president who didn’t say “God Bless America” at the end of every speech like a verbal tick?  Hell, Kennedy almost didn’t get elected because he was the wrong kind of Christian.  Two of the major mudslinging topics of the 2008 presidential campaign alternated between accusing Obama of being a Muslim and criticizing his beliefs because his church’s pastor said some inflammatory things.  Pick one people.  Is he Muslim or a crazy Christian?  Can you honestly imagine a non-Christian being elected president?

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

On this issue, the US has done fairly well until recently.  Obviously, some people have always had prejudices against other religions, but recent waves of anti-Islamic sentiment have led to local governments barring the building of mosques in certain communities.  This is clearly the government prevent worship of a specific religion.  There was one case, I can’t remember exactly where, but the city was preventing a mosque from being built in a neighborhood because it was too close to an elementary school, while there was a Lutheran Church a block away.  Again, government interference.  Either allow any worship center near the school, or none.  You don’t get to pick and choose.  This is also tied in with my earlier point about politicians.  People are free to worship and believe whatever they want, until they want to get elected to office.  Good luck getting elected if you aren’t the right religion.

That’s it for today because my fingers are tired.  I’ll continue with the first amendment next time.
(oh, and answer my poll question to the right!)

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