Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Other Price of Freedom

First, to quickly get a monkey off my back, environmentalism is not contrary to Mormon doctrine. In fact, it is most definitely in harmony with the gospel teachings about respect, responsibly, and stewardship. But that’s enough of responding to comments made in Sunday School.

The issue today is the cost of freedom. We honor those who have fought and died for our freedom, and indeed it is their sacrifice that has made our freedoms possible. Those who willingly risked their lives in the defense of worthy causes deserve our honor, respect, and gratitude; they have made the ultimate down payment for our liberty. Unfortunately, there are many now who are unwilling to honor that sacrifice by keeping up on the installments. Freedom once bought always comes with a continuing price. That price is the misuse of freedom. This leads many to call for the restriction, or even rejection of freedom.

Let us take our freedom of speech as an example. Our freedom of speech is a constitutionally guaranteed right of self expression. It allows me to express my ideas and others to express theirs. Thus society allows us, as individuals, to judge these differing ideas based on their merits. This system shows a profound trust in us as individual moral agents. We are trusted that we will hear and examine ideas critically and reject those that we find unfit. This responsibility is an individual one; no power is given to the government to intervene to censor ideas that it finds dangerous or abhorrent; each of us must decide for ourselves what it is that we approve or disapprove of and then take upon ourselves the job of controlling our consumption.

The down payment for freedom of speech was made with the blood of our fathers in the revolution, but there are further costs to society that must be paid. For example expressions of racism, sexism, bigotry, and pornography are all misuses of freedom of speech. They do significant damage to our society. That damage is the other price of freedom. There are some who are unwilling to pay this price, who claim that the cost is too high the damage too great, that we use the power of the government to silence these types of expression. However, that we find a particular message abhorrent cannot be used to justify censorship. To quote Ronald Dworkin in his book Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution, (italics mine) “…We must not endorse the principle that opinion may be banned when those in power are persuaded that it is false and that some group would be deeply and understandably wounded by its publication…Every blasphemy law, every book-burning, every witch hunt of the right or left, has been defended on the same ground: that it protects fundamental values from desecration. Beware principles you can trust only in the hands of people who think as you do.” He goes on to say”…I know that decent people are impatient with abstract principles when they see hoodlums with pseudo-swastikas pretending that the most monumental, cold-blooded genocide ever was the invention of its victims. The hoodlums remind us of what we often forget: the high, sometimes nearly unbearable, cost of freedom. But freedom is important enough even for sacrifices that really hurt. People who love it should give no hostage to its enemies…even in the face of the violent provocations design[ed] to tempt us.”
Does all of this mean that we should do nothing in the face evils, such as racism? Of course not. Our constitution doesn’t just protect the right of others to teach hatred. We to have a responsibility to make our voice heard to show bigotry, sexism, racism and other degrading speech for what they are. In fact, the best defense against the creeping darkness of ignorance is the dissemination of the light of truth.