Freedom isn’t free, freedom isn’t free
You’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to sacrifice
For your liberty.

The above words are from a song written over 30 years ago by a couple of brothers who were talented young devotees of Moral Rearmament, a youth-oriented international movement whose purpose was to appeal to the energy and altruism of young people all over the world, hoping to awaken their best instincts and call them to individual discipline and morality.

I was stirred by their zeal, and I hosted a couple of TV specials for them. I don’t know what’s happened to that well-meaning organization today, but I’ll never forget the words to the song we all performed together.

“Freedom isn’t free.”

Do you remember the term “free love,” bandied about so frequently in the 1960s and into the freewheeling ’70s? It seemed to spring out of the “flower children” phenomenon in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, Calif., during the decade-long period when open student dissent against the Vietnam War spawned flagrant drug use, rejection of all authority, the breaking of all taboos and the intoxicating notion that people should just be completely “free” to do whatever they wanted to do.

Timothy Leary joyously advocated, “Tune in; turn on; drop out!”

The Chicago Seven’s Jerry Rubin shouted, “If it feels good – do it!”

After 200 years of burdensome moral guidelines and restrictions in America, millions of young people just revolted and took all that Never-Never Land advice, buying into the idea that if everybody just exuded “love” and “tolerance,” with no limitations of any kind, our society would quickly evolve toward some kind of utopia. And for a while, it was sort of “in” for giddy, na?ve young people to copulate freely, just giving and receiving and sharing, like children sharing playground equipment or toys at a party.

Naturally, musicians jumped into the middle of the whole thing, promoting and participating by popularizing the whole “new age,” the “Age of Aquarius,” the liberalization of mores, drugs and sexuality. It really seemed like one big, never-ending party.

But morning came eventually. And the inevitable hangover revealed permanently ruined lives, addled minds, a smorgasbord of sexual diseases, nervous breakdowns, overdose deaths – and set the stage for the still-real AIDS epidemic in this country.

“Free love” wasn’t free, after all. The tab came due, and the bills are still being paid. The overthrow of responsibility was, and is, terribly, tragically costly.

So it is with “free speech.” There really is no such thing.

There is a price for just about everything in life, but we’re not prone to look for the tag until we’ve already used the commodity, and then we’re stunned when we see the bill.

When our concepts of liberty were newly formed, in the late 1700s, wise old Ben Franklin said, “Only a moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom. The more corrupt and vicious a society becomes, the more it has need of masters.”

Too few today comprehend that the consistent abuse of any liberty will stretch it into license, into meaningless, destructive anarchy – and eventually, a sickened and angry people will give up the liberty to escape the license, the licentiousness.

Currently, Sirius Radio is paying Howard Stern some half a billion dollars so he can exercise his “free speech” on their satellite radio service. He seems so proud of his “freedom” to spew any kind of filth or sacrilege or putrid obscenity into the atmosphere – and into millions of young minds – and so sincere in actually presenting himself as “a champion of the First Amendment.”

Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine and founder of a whole sleaze industry, portrays himself the same way. And many buy into the ridiculous, perverted idea; Hollywood even produced an Oscar-nominated movie presenting him as a patriot, a constitutional hero!

We came within a Bruno Magli shoeprint of being subjected to a huge media circus whirling around O J Simpson’s “If I Did It” account of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. I suspect that Rupert Murdoch’s last minute decision to withdraw and cancel the whole atrocious affair was not a sudden rush of good taste and principle; likely, it was a growing awareness that the American people were “on to him,” and that even by our drastically lowered standards, it was obvious that this was pushing “freedom of the press” too far.

And now, A&E, up till now a family-friendly bio and movie network in 90 million homes, has announced they’ll pay two and a half million dollars per episode for “The Sopranos,” the tremendous hit HBO series about other “families” – mobsters, killers, drug traffickers – and the graphic depictions of almost every vile thing human beings are capable of. “Sex and the City” is already in heavy distribution, and the inexcusable, decadent “Nip/Tuck” actually PROMISES to fill any gaps left in the primetime presentation of depravity.

Bob DeBitetto, general manager at A&E, actually says that in 2004, his network began to “chase younger viewers,” explaining “we had to do something that was scary, which was to fairly rudely … show our loyal viewership the door.”

And what better way to “chase younger viewers” than to expose the 90 million homes that carry A&E to the violence, profanity and obscenity of “The Sopranos”? As FX Network discovered with “The Shield,” another cable series about base, violent, evil behavior: Nielsen ratings show 5.2 percent of the average 2 million viewers per show over this past year (though it airs at 10 p.m. Eastern time and is billed as “adult”) were under age 17, including 2.4 percent under 11.

These facts don’t even begin to paint the big picture, the truth that networks and movie producers and ad agencies won’t face. The flagrant abuses of our freedoms is systematically corrupting our young, selling their souls and their futures, in the sordid quest for ratings, ticket sales and billions of dollars. Out of control drug usage, school closet sex, childhood profanity, guns, knives, gangs and falling literacy abound everywhere. And not content to debase our own young, the sleaze merchants reap billions exporting these images of our society to every country in the world, convincing them that we may be “the great Satan.”

All of this, claiming they’re just exercising “free speech.”

Will we ever realize that speech, especially irresponsible, filthy, violent and immoral speech – isn’t “free”? That it’s costing us a lot more than we’ll ever want to pay, when the bill finally comes due?

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