The Responsibility of Freedom

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For July 4th weekender, 2015

 The Responsibility of Freedom

David W. Hegg


Somewhere along the line freedom went through a tragic redefinition. What once was understood, and provided the basic foundation stone of our democracy, has now become a primary cause of our societal demise. Why? Because as originally understood by our courageous forefathers who stood on the village green at Concord facing the British soldiers who had come to seize their weapons, “freedom” was release from restriction, not permission for personal aggrandizement. They were seeking to throw off the chains of British tyranny, not looking for a reason to become tyrants themselves.


Freedom always comes at a price, and with great responsibilities. Freedom isn’t free, and it doesn’t allow for behavior free from all reasonable restraints.


Those who fought to end British domination also understood they had to replace it with a different form of government, but government none the less. Not one of those who heard the “shot heard round the world” thought that freedom meant they could do whatever they wanted. No! They understood freedom as from tyranny, not as the permission live without law, without restraint.


But this has – tragically – become the primary way freedom is defined today. For too many, freedom is the ability to do whatever I want to do, anytime I want to do it, regardless of the danger it may pose to the wellbeing and beliefs of others. And if you can’t accept me and my behavior then you’re a freedom-hating bigot that must be marginalized or worse. Take careful notice … freedom has been re-defined as license.


Another word we should consider is liberty. Perhaps this term gives us an even better understanding of freedom since the two words are synonyms. Liberty is emancipation, independence, and is the opposition of suppression. Yet, it does not carry the idea that once “liberated” we are permitted to act anyway we want to act. Liberty is merely the release from tyranny, not permission to act without proper restraint.


On this weekend when our minds and hearts turn to the days of the American War of Independence, we need to pause and take stock of where we are as a nation. That war was fought to throw off the yoke of a king who ruled with no thought of the people. That war was fought so that a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” could become a reality.


That war was not fought so that we could become a people without moral restraint, where individual preferences could be elevated to constitutional rights, and where those given the shield of judicial protection could hammer it into a sword with which to harm their opponents. And it was not fought so the institution of marriage, as practiced since the beginning of human history, could be overturned, and same-sex marriage normalized and institutionalized by 5 unelected legal scholars. 


The American War of Independence was fought so that a restricted form of government could be created that would never be allowed to dictate in areas where good and reasonable people disagree. Rather, it was fought to enable the establishment of a democracy where robust dialogue and argument would be central to the establishment of needed restraints, as affirmed by the votes of the people.


On June 26, 2015 that wall came tumbling down. By a 5-4 vote the lawyers of the Supreme Court elevated same-sex marriage to a constitutionally inherent human right despite the fact that those arguing for it agreed that no society in history ever normalized same-sex marriage until 2001. To paraphrase Chief Justice Roberts “Who do they think they are?”


So, today as you roast the hot dogs, baste the ribs, and munch the corn on the cob, think carefully about where America is headed. And consider that the responsibility of freedom is the adoption of individual restraint. Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you feel like doing, anytime you want to do it. Freedom is the responsibility to fight tyranny on every hand, while retaining the inner restraint necessary for this experiment in pluralistic society to exist peacefully into the future. May God bless America, and may America live in a manner deserving of his blessing.