FREEDOM IS FOR ALL
“The condition of being free of restraints, especially the ability to act without control or interference by another or by circumstance.”
Definition of Freedom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all [People] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Declaration of Independence
We talk a lot in this Country about Freedom, and its first-cousin Liberty. We pay homage to these terms in the patriotic songs we sing, in the pride that we exude on the 4th of July, how we talk about this Country to our children in our homes and schools, and how we broadcast the beliefs and myths that we have about our Country to the rest of the world. In reality though, some citizens by virtue of their station at birth, opportunities presented to them throughout their lives, the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion (or their lack thereof), etc., are freer and have more liberty than others. Despite the magic words in the Declaration of Independence quoted above, and in the principles embedded in the United States Constitution, in practice our Country, which regards itself as this great melting pot with Freedom from “sea to shining sea” does not live up to its ideals. Perhaps no country does, but I don’t live in any other country, and no other country holds itself out as the shining light and beacon of freedom the way the United States does.
I’ve been thinking lately about who gets to define the scope and breadth of Freedom in America, and what rights or actions will be protected, and which ones will not. It seems to me that oftentimes certain “unalienable rights” and freedoms are infringed upon when they don’t fall within the excepted norms and culture of white, Judeo-Christian, European heritage. Now some might argue that this is appropriate given the fact that the “Founding Fathers” were a bunch of white mostly Christian male landowners. However, over time society evolved, and what felt comfortable has evolved, to some degree. So, therefore, women eventually attained the right to vote, and eventually slavery, at least as a matter of law, was banned. However, there actually is no reference in either the Declaration of Independence or United States Constitution to what norms or freedoms are acceptable. There is no litmus test. Indeed, the words of our foundational documents are intentionally broad to allow for growth and evolution, and so that these words can remain applicable and relevant and withstand the tests of time.
As we have seen throughout our Nation’s history, there have been a series of battles by which different people and groups have fought for the equality and equity guaranteed by the Constitution. These battles, at least in part, have concerned what is acceptable and what is not, and who gets to define these issues. Recently, I have read how the horrible decision by the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs, which overturned Roe and held that women do not have a Federally protected right of choice, has emboldened some to take aim at same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. The argument put forward by many of those supporting this further rollback of individual human autonomy, dignity, and individual rights (in the Country that prides itself on being the touchstone of individual rights) is based on the belief that somehow these bald attempts to isolate and subjugate certain members of our community will “PROTECT” our society.
Well let’s see. Some of the most serious and pressing issues threatening our society today, in no particular order are: 40,000 gun-related deaths a year; climate change that is accelerating and is effecting water supply and the habitability of certain regions of our Country and the Planet, and is beginning to result in climate refugees knocking at our door as their homelands can no longer sustain human life; ridiculous philosophical divisions in our Country stoked by dangerous folks with personal agendas and platforms to reach the masses; increasing economic disparity; the erosion of our democracy as people express fealty to a person or a party instead of the principles imbedded in the Constitution; the attack on the voting rights of previously under-represented members of our society with absolutely no evidence of systemic voter fraud; sexism; ongoing systemic racism; white supremacy; domestic terrorism; and other hobbies and pastimes of certain folk and groups. Obviously (and this is dripping with sarcasm), these “ills” stem from same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. YUP, if we just take away the rights of people of the same gender to marry and/or have relationships, or for people to live their truths despite the external gender to which they may have been born, our ship will be righted and once more the sun will shine on the great U.S. of A., and all will be right with the world. Pardon me but are you f**king kidding me? Somehow banning same-sex marriage and/or not supporting the rights of transgender folks will prevent young men, who are mostly white, from shooting up schools with AR-15 rifles. Excuse me, but I really don’t see the connection. I can’t connect those dots unless I drop acid and soak me feet in some kind of evil Kool-aid.
The people supporting these efforts to restrict or deny the rights of others often cite dogma or quotes from religious texts (which are oftentimes either taken out of context or are mis-construed). In response to that, I remind people that it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 religions on Earth. Although it is true that the Founding Fathers were largely Christian, although some of them were Deists (you should look up what that means), there is nothing in the Constitution which specifies that only the principles of one religion or another are controlling. The fact is that there are hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of religions practiced in the United States, and that some of these religions do not proselytize against same-sex marriage or LGBTQ rights. In addition, there is a growing number of citizens who are religiously unaffiliated, agnostic or atheists whose rights and opinions are entitled to equal weight. So why is it that some of these issues that are critical to the lives of some of our brothers and sisters, and their pursuit of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, are limited to interpretations of one or only a few religions?
Importantly, it must also be remembered that the Founding Fathers had grave reservations and concerns regarding the influence of religion on government. This is why, at least in part, the “establishment clause” was written into the Constitution. It is specifically and expressly there to separate church from state. There is also Article VI of the Constitution which states that while all those who hold elective office in the United States must take an oath of allegiance to, and to support and defend, the Constitution, no “religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to” any office in the Unites States.
Before a society takes steps to pass legislation to restrict the humanity, rights and freedoms of fellow citizens, that society better make damn sure that there is a demonstrative basis in fact for doing so. For example, there is a reason that we outlaw drunk driving. Statistical evidence proved that drunks behind the wheel cause harm. It wasn’t based on a belief, but on hard data and evidence, and this is applicable only to drunk driving which, while important, is surely of less significance than marriage or people living their truth. At present, there is no hard data or evidence, or any objectively supported compelling state interest, upon which to deny people the fundamental right to marry, regardless of whether it is same-sex or opposite-sex. Remember, not long ago some states banned interracial marriage.
There is no objective, reasoned basis upon which to deny people the right to enter into the civil contract of marriage. Similarly, there is no basis to deny certain people the right to live their truth as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, cisgender, transgender, etc. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution contains a little thing called the Equal Protection Clause. This requires states to practice equal protection under the law. Equal protection forces a state to govern impartially — not draw distinctions between individuals solely on differences that are irrelevant to a legitimate government object. While people living their truths may make some other people uncomfortable, even perhaps very uncomfortable, discomfort should not be the basis to strip others of their “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness”.
Looking back upon history, we have seen how discomfort of others which has, from time to time, been supported by religious dogma, differences in skin color, etc., has had horrific results. People of color, Jews, Turks, Asians, Muslims, people of lower castes in certain societies, homosexuals, Indigenous peoples (including the human beings who lived in the United States for eons before the Europeans came), people of differing faiths and beliefs, etc., have been slaughtered, horribly treated and subjugated.
As a recent example, in this Country there has been an increase in violence towards those of Asian heritage (regardless of whether they were born in this country and are actually native to this country) because of the despicable rhetoric put forth by some regarding COVID-19 and its origin.
The United States, at least on paper, has always prided itself on whom it includes as opposed to whom it excludes. Long ago I realized that when something or someone made me uncomfortable, I first needed to explore the basis of that discomfort before I could, in good conscience, support subjugation, segregation and/or differential treatment of any person or group of people. Upon such self-reflection, I realized that the problem was with me and not others. So, I worked on me, and freeing myself from these unjustified and unwarranted concerns that were based on emotion, “the way things have always been” and prejudice.
The past few years we have seen rhetoric supporting all kinds of lies and misinformation. For example, Alex Jones on Infowars did the almost unimaginable and unspeakable by maintaining that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was a fabrication put forward by the government to somehow create support for banning guns. Sadly, thousands of people were drawn in by this rhetoric, listened to his lying and hate mongering, and even contributed monetarily to his warped cause.
It is long past time that we mature and grow up as a society, and that we stop seeking out individuals and groups who “pose a threat” to our “way of life”. As is listed earlier this piece, there are plenty of significant legitimate concerns to ourselves, our plant and our democracy without having to resort to witch hunting. If we want America to be everything that it says it is, then we need to change the narrative, and we need to do a little self-reflection as to why certain things make us uncomfortable and whether, in fact, these things actually degrade, diminish and threaten our Country. We need to stop letting other people tell us whom to hate, whom to ostracize, ban and subjugate, whom to treat differentially than others, and experience different groups and people for ourselves and draw our own conclusions.
I believe in the universal principles imbedded in our Constitution, regardless of who wrote them, what they looked like, their religions, etc. We cannot let hate, fear and discomfort rule the day and, in doing so, without any basis in fact, strip some people of their rights to love, marry, have families, live their truths, etc. We have learned that human sexuality is not a binary, black and white thing. It is a broad continuum. In the past people have been trapped and not been free to live who they are and love who they love. People were forced to live lies and stay in the closet. That is not, asnd should not be, America.
My wife and I were born to different faiths, her Catholic, I Jewish. Not long ago and perhaps even today, this would have been frowned upon by segments of society. I am happy to say that we have a loving relationship, and we have raised two wonderful adult children. I cannot imagine the crushing heartbreak I would have experienced if our religious difference had been a cause for people keeping us apart, and not acknowledging our love. Or, think of a parent of a child who knows they are of a certain gender regardless of the genitalia with which they were born. Like any parent, that parent wants what is best for their child and to give their child the life to which they were actually born. Think of it in those personal terms. Try for a moment to place yourself in the shoes of the people who are experiencing these issues on the front lines. No, you may not be comfortable, but only with discomfort comes growth. Don’t be afraid to grow.
Let’s be who we say we are. Let freedom ring. One world/one love. Peace.