free·dom /frid m/ free-duhm –noun
1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint: He won his freedom after a retrial. 2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc. 3. power to determine action without restraint. 4. political or national independence. 5. personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery: a slave who bought his freedom. 6. exemption from the presence of anything specified (usually fol. by from): freedom from fear. 7.the absence of or release from ties, obligations, etc. 8. ease or facility of movement or action: to enjoy the freedom of living in the country. 9. frankness of manner or speech. 10. general exemption or immunity: freedom from taxation. 11. the absence of ceremony or reserve. 12. a liberty taken. 13. a particular immunity or privilege enjoyed, as by a city or corporation: freedom to levy taxes. 14. civil liberty, as opposed to subjection to an arbitrary or despotic government. 15. the right to enjoy all the privileges or special rights of citizenship, membership, etc., in a community or the like. 16. the right to frequent, enjoy, or use at will: to have the freedom of a friend's library. 17. Philosophy. the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.
What is the nature of freedom? It's a noble concept, until it begins to infringe on others' freedom. By virtue of not living in a vacuum, we must constrain our freedom somewhat so that we do not constrain others' freedom. But what and how many constraints can you put on yourself and still call yourself free? What are reasonable constraints, since we do not live in a vacuum? This country was apparently founded on the notion of Freedom, but I doubt we're much like the Fathers would imagine. Did they think immigration would be a problem someday? Did they expect religion other than Christianity to impact this country? Did they envision falling towers and endless wars?
I won't take each definition point by point (it's already taken my post by storm) but many of the definitions strike me because they're phrased in the negative. Exemption, absence, immunity, without constraint. Forgive the awkward turn of phrase, but in our definition we definitely include the exclusion of persecution. I believe I'm free, when it comes to the heart of the meaning. I'm certainly rarely persecuted. I've placed most of my constraints upon myself. But then, I am plain-jane vanilla middle-class Americana. No criminal record (to speak of). Anglican Christian with pure white British heritage--on paper, anyway. Married sixteen years, no divorce in sight. Two kids. One dog. One-point-five college degrees. When I walk down the street, people look don't look at me for my aberations, which by any standard are small, and mostly don't show.
I think it's reasonable, even decent, to limit freedom based only on what maims others' Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Drive the limit because safety becomes a premium at high speeds. Wait your turn in line. Vote and do not hinder others. Hunt in approved areas only. Inside voices. Don't gossip.
But when we get into issues of the soul, things get fuzzier. Separation of church and state, indeed. Can a non-Christian be truly free in this country? Most Christians wouldn't call themselves entirely free here, though they certainly pray at Congress. Hell, we even swear on a Bible in court (and for a good portion of the country, this gesture means little). Some people believe prayer belongs in schools preserves and saves souls. It's a pursuit of Life, of a sort, if one believes in the infalibility of the soul. Does such prayer hurt others? Some believe no, because exposure might help the damned. Some believe yes, because it would offend people of other or no faith. Afterlife verses life. Do we constrain freedom in one life to attain true freedom in the next? Do we expect others to do so?
What about gays, for example? What if they engage in homosexual activity in the privacy of their own home? Does that harm others? No more than my own somewhat kinky sex play, I presume. You don't even know what I do unless I tell you.
But what if homosexuals hold hands and kiss in public? What's the harm, then? It's still nothing to do with the rest of us, right? But, perhaps some nearby parents don't want to explain the behavior, the "aberation" to their children. With that, we can accept some potential for offence exists. What if straight people hold hands and kiss in public? Is that different? Is that acceptable? Why? Using the same standard as in our gay scenario, that behavior also might raise uncomfortable questions from children. What if two straight guy-friends from Middle Eastern descent hold hands? Again, it might raise questions. But do their cultural differences really offend more or less than the gay cultural difference? Just because of sex? Does sex truly offend, does it carry more weight of privacy than friendship? This could be a construct or Truth, or possibly both, if all opinions are taken into account. And if it is both, based on who you talk to, (again, these questions do not exist in a vacuum) how do we rectify certain behaviors based on the notion of Freedom?
Things get even grayer when all the information is not present and accounted for. I trust, basically, that my elected leaders know more than I do. They've access to intelligence and resourses I simply don't. But, even knowing what they know, at what point does their knowledge, and use thereof, start to impact my freedom unfairly? When they grounded air traffic after 9/11, I knew many people whose freedom was impacted. I don't know one person who complained, despite rather serious constraints. Perhaps the temporary nature of such martial law makes it all right. But many laws and behaviors are not temporary, and how then, are we to define Freedom in a way that is fair to every opinion? Should we rectify Freedom with Opinion? Would we even want to?
Some of the same people who claim there are too many laws refuse to acknowledge the right to same-sex marriage, the rights of non-Christians to celebrate their religions, the success of blacks, immigrants' enjoyment of our so-called Freedom. But can I be of a free people when I am free and my sister, my comrade, or my neighbor is not? Does that not restrain my own freedom? And even a potential restraint can change the very nature of freedom.
It is my belief that people who are truly free have no need for rebellion, for protest. And yet, people write blogs and their congressmen and political songs. They are free to protest here, in The Land of the Free, about their lack of freedom. Ironic, eh? Make no mistake, belief does not make it so. We are not free by any stretch of the imagination. I believe we are in constant conflict with the very freedom we claim to own.