What Liberty Means To Me

July 22, 2016

Latest Thinking

My right to life
So precious and obvious,
it is the basis of all others,
The right to liberty, and property
and even what some call pursuit of happiness.
Narrowly construed
liberty is the right not to be enslaved,
I can’t be owned or someone else’s property
This insight was learned
the hard way, through guns and war
and loss of life
Liberty means I can be an owner of things
the law protects my rights in them
I can sell them, destroy them, or use them
Without interference
from anyone else.
No one else dare touch them
Without my permission
Like anyone else
I am a holder of rights, not an object of rights,
I can pray to anyone or anything I wish
Whether Jesus, or Yahweh, or Mohammed or
the stones and trees of nature
My outrageous beliefs and yours don’t determine
our rights, which allow me
To love whomever I wish
To define myself as I see fit
Whether as man or woman or something else
I can say whatever I want, hold views unlike anyone,
as long as I don’t carry out
or incite others to violence
which threatens to take away your right to life
harm your body or damage your property
Liberty means I am free to do what I like
under the law
Not that the law doesn’t exist
Or that we don’t have responsibilities
I can’t own a tank, or a nuclear bomb,
though we don’t agree at all
about how broad
is that right to bear arms,
and whether that right extends
to anything we can literally carry
I have to stop at a traffic light, and wear a seat belt,
I can’t smoke in public places, or in apartment buildings
Because the protection of others’ lives trumps
my individual freedom and desires
Liberty does not mean I can do anything I like
I am limited by your rights and you by mine.
We can and must have laws
That protect and articulate our values
But we are to be equal under that law
Not applying one set of rules to this group
And another set to that one,
At least where those distinctions are
based on hatred, prejudice, race, gender or  religion.
It is a question for society to decide
how much freedom to give our markets,
we don’t sell body parts, for instance
And how much to tax our citizens for the good of all
Liberty gives us the right, and even arguably the duty,
to set limits, to fight inequality,
and, yes, even to care for all
Everyone’s life is precious and worth defending
though we don’t all agree when life begins,
and whether protection of the unborn
has a right to life
that trumps the liberty
of the mother
This is a question that liberty by itself can’t decide
For liberty can’t say where life starts and ends
and who gets to decide,
only that once life has started
a right is created
that should be protected
Our rights are said to be given us,
by our God and our Constitution,
Though not everyone worships
the same deity or is a believer
We don’t all agree on what the Constitution means
Whether literal and static,
or responding
to the times
Even justices disagree
on the right way to read it
since the Constitution itself
doesn’t tell us the rules
by which it should be interpreted
If our understanding of liberty were static,
And if freedom meant doing whatever
the founding white, Christian male majority wished,
we might still have slaves,
we wouldn’t allow whites and blacks to intermarry,
we wouldn’t allow “negroes” to ride our busses
Japanese may still be interred,
quota limits would still be enforced on Jews,
women would still work at home
Not to mention all the people who would still be living
in their closets
Our understanding of liberty has expanded
beyond our founders’ views,
fulfilling their vision
that liberty
could embrace equality, too
We have a long way to go
We are not there yet
Liberty wants more fairness
More justice,
More equality,
More heart,
One day, perhaps, liberty will include
not only a right to life,
to liberty and to property,
But to food on the table,
a roof over one’s head,
healthcare and education for all
and a right to die when it’s time
I don’t know how far away is that day
Whether in my lifetime or no
But this is what liberty means to me
And I hope one day
For you