Archived 3-12-04

 “The Umbrella of Liberty”

By Larry John

"I have a question. In Arizona the legislator is trying to pass a statewide smoking ban. If it does not pass they will petition to put it up to a statewide vote. How does this possible statewide ban infringe on personal rights when you consider that it is not only harmful to the smoker, but is also harmful to any nonsmoker in the vicinity?"

Posted by: Michal at March 6, 2004 08:41 AM

Michal has a good question about the “smoking issue” in Arizona. Anytime we allow people to use the government to take away our personal liberties and freedoms, we are playing with fire. The fact is, people want government to legislate their “own personal wants” and make others conform….that is unless you already have a “personal ideology” of what you want from government and will allow government to do…BEFORE the issue arises. Ideology is NOT an issue… it is a way of looking at, thinking about, and solving issues as they arise. I don’t believe that we should “legislate” morality as you may know. I believe in my ideology of government which includes the thinking that we must protect personal freedoms and liberties first, regardless of our own personal belief. This ideology is paramount. Personal freedoms take precedence over anything else. Protecting our right to choose is the “TRUMP CARD” of my thinking. It always wins, regardless of my personal beliefs and preferences. I will not legislate my belief, regardless of how strongly I feel about the issue.

So, what about issues such as the smoking in public places? Don’t I have the right to live in a healthier smoke free environment? Aren’t these smokers infringing upon my rights?  Are these “smokers” taking away my personal rights of a healthy environment? And that just ain’t fair! However, if I am a smoker, don’t I have the right to smoke if I want without government getting involved in taking away my personal freedoms? It is here that we must distinguish the different between these three worlds….freedoms, liberties, and rights.

This is how I look at it. I look at this thing we call LIBERTY as a big umbrella, and under that umbrella are two people who’s names are “rights” and “freedoms.” “Rights” has strings which are attached on his coat which can be tied, or not, in order to restrict him and “Freedoms” has no strings attached on his coat. They are both under our umbrella named LIBERTY representing all of our personal liberties. Let’s start with “rights.” The word “right” is synonymous with the word “privilege” and even though you may have the privileges or rights to do some things, these rights are earned based on certain conditions and restrictions. In other words, there are “strings attached.” It is a “privilege” to drive a car, for example. As long as we do what society (or government which represents the current views of society) says, we have the right to drive…but there are some strings attached that restrict us if we don’t keep all the rules of society. This privilege to drive is granted to us “equally” as long as we keep the rules of driving and can show that we are capable of the privilege of driving. So even though we all have the right to drive, this right is conditional upon certain restrictions that are equal to all. Thus we all have an equal “opportunity” to the right or privilege to drive a car. Simply said, certain rights have certain conditions designed to protect us all from ourselves and each other, and those rules of rights are decided by “we the people” based on people we have elected to represent us or by popular vote of the majority.

Now let’s talk about “freedoms.” We hold Freedom to be “self evident,” or it goes without saying that we all want it and we all get it with no strings attached. Freedom is equal to all, with no restrictions or conditions placed on them. We all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property (which was later changed to happiness). It’s our goal as a society to make sure that every individual not only has “equal” opportunity under the law to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, but all of us have freedom to have these pursuits with NO strings attached. After all, the Revolutionary war was fought to gain those freedoms which the King would not grant them. For example, we must all have the freedom of choice to choose our own personal religion. The government can never take away that freedom, and we can worship as we may.  We grant everyone the freedom to choose regardless of the fact that we may not agree with their way of thinking. Freedoms have no conditions. They are “self evident.” Liberty only has one rule if we are going to open up this umbrella to protect us. We can’t hurt anyone else with our freedom to choose. We can choose to worship as we may as long as we don’t hurt anyone in the process. We have that freedom with no strings attached. We have the right to drive, or privilege to drive, as long as we don’t hurt anyone or act in a way that could possible hurt someone. The umbrella of LIBERTY protects us with rights (which have some strings attached) and with freedoms (which have no strings attached) as long as through our actions we don’t infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others….and both “rights” and “liberties” stand under the umbrella of LIBERTY to protect us.

Well, that’s a very simple analogy, but it works for me. So, is smoking a right or a freedom By my definition and analogy it is a right. Society decides what rights it grants and under what conditions…and in that it is a right there may be some strings attached. Even if I don’t agree with society I must agree with society’s freedom to choose. If society wants government to ban smoking in every state of the union, that is society’s decision. They have the freedom to restrict certain freedoms and make them rights if they choose. If society doesn’t want me smoking, using drugs, driving too fast, building homes out of cardboard, looking at pornography, reading certain books, etc., society has the freedom to restrict my rights. But society doesn’t have the freedom to restrict my liberties and freedom, even though they keep trying. I may not agree with those who represent us or even the with the majority, but we have set up RULES of LIBERTY that give us the privilege to do that. We are walking on the razor’s edge. So we must always be careful that we do not restrict freedom under the umbrella of liberty or soon we will have no liberties, freedoms, or rights. When you let the “camel’s head in the tent” you may be sorry. Once the camel knows he can come in and you won’t do anything about it, you may be sleeping with the camel for the rest of your life.

Now, more on Michal’s “smoking” question. If society decides, that for the good of the whole, smoking should not be done in public places I’m OKAY with that. If society decides that I cannot smoke at all regardless of where, while accepting responsibility for my own actions, I am NOT OKAY with that.

You see, not having the freedom to smoke in my own back yard, as long as I am not hurting others by restricting their freedoms, may be giving the “camel” a little too much authority.  Society can tell me “where” I can smoke, but don’t tell me “no where.” My “self evident” liberty gives me the freedom to choose. When we take away liberties and freedoms and call them rights under that premise of protecting all of us…perhaps extreme censorship and book burnings will be next. Liberty, freedom, and rights are not the same thing. Don’t change the name of a liberty or freedom and make it a right where strings are attached. Once the camel’s head is in the tent, you will be sleeping with him and he will do what comes naturally. He will eventually spit on you!