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Is freedom in America a myth or a reality?

Posted By Andrew Napolitano On 10/20/2011 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Does the government exist to serve us or to master us? If the government exists to serve us and if freedom is part of our humanity, how can the government take freedom from us? Is human freedom in America a myth, or is it a reality?

Today is the release date of my newest book, “It Is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong.” This is my sixth book. All have been about human freedom and the government’s failure to protect it.

In all of my previous works, I have emphasized the theme that all human beings possess natural rights as part of our humanity. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we view these rights as gifts from our Creator. This is particularly so if you are an American and if you mark the founding of this nation at July 4, 1776, as it was then that the Continental Congress promulgated in the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson’s immortal – though hardly novel – words to the effect that we humans are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Historians have speculated that Jefferson originally planned to use the concept of property ownership in that iconic litany of human rights, but he feared that addressing slavery in the same document in which he had characterized the long train of abuses visited upon the colonists by the king of England would have opened the Declaration and its signers to charges of hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Talmudic and Christian scholars and renowned skeptics, even atheists and deists, had long held, by Jefferson’s time, that the divine right of kings was a myth, that all humans own their own bodies and that personal freedoms are integral to those bodies.

Whether the ultimate source of human freedom is found in theology or biology, freedom exists, freedom is ours by nature, and the long history of the world is really one unceasing, increasing catalogue of the epic battles for personal freedoms against tyranny.

Stated differently, I have argued in my work at Fox News, as a judge, as a lawyer and as an author, lecturer and law school professor that our basic human liberties – thought, speech, press, worship, travel, privacy, association, self-defense, bodily integrity, dominion over ownership of property, fairness from the government, and the presumption of liberty at all times under all circumstances and in all conflicts – are the essence of humanity. If you read the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments of the Constitution – you will see that the theme of my work was pretty much accepted by the framers. They, like I, were skeptical of Big Government. Some, such as Patrick Henry and George Mason, were, as I am, skeptical of all government.

The framers viewed, as do I, the only legitimate role of government as protecting freedom. That connotes protection from force and fraud, but it surely does not connote punishing the politically unorthodox, transferring wealth, regulating personal private behavior, stealing property, manipulating currency or fighting wars of imperialism.

Now the dark part: There is no human liberty, natural or constitutional, expressly guaranteed in the Constitution or traditionally viewed as belonging to all persons, that has not been nullified by the government in America.

We are deluding ourselves if we think the government thinks the so-called guarantees of freedoms are truly guarantees. They are not. They have been tolerated by American governments unless and until the governments have felt threatened by them.

Of course, a guarantee that can be suspended whenever those obligated on the guarantee no longer feel bound by it is no guarantee whatsoever. Throughout our history, persons in America have had all natural rights denied by different levels of government, from slavery to abortion, from punishment for speech to theft of property, from denial of due process to invasions of privacy; and the government has prevailed. What is it about the Constitution that the government has sworn to uphold, that the government manifests an unrestrained willingness to disregard it?

As this column will, “It Is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong” tells stories that generally do not have happy endings. Most of the time, freedom loses. But these arguments I will make come from my heart as well as my head; and they should resonate in your heart and head. Every day, in many a way, seen and unseen, liberty is lost. It is the purpose of this column to address the seen and the unseen, to argue for the primacy of the individual over the state and to help foment a reawakening of the natural human thirst for freedom.

Let me spend some time with you in the privacy of your own thoughts. Let me take you on a wild ride through the annals of freedom in America. As you read the pages of these forthcoming columns, ask yourself if, at each turn, we are closer to freedom or slavery, if the majesty of the law really means what it says, and why – why – it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. You’ll be educated and agitated, but you won’t be disappointed.


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