Liberties are NEVER Pro Bono

Statue of Liberty

We have incredible rights and freedoms in this country, unlike any other throughout history, and each of these individual rights granted through our constitution has a “cost” associated with it because each of them is handled irresponsibly by certain citizens at any given time. The right to bear arms by all citizens means that some irresponsible citizens use these arms to maim or kill other innocent citizens. The right to free speech means we have to tolerate other citizens’ racist hate speech. The right to peaceful assembly means that we have to absorb the risk of peaceful assemblies becoming violent, destructive events. The fifth amendment right of a defendant to refuse to testify in a court of law means we often never know the facts of a crime and therefore we can never hold the guilty party responsible.

Each and every freedom granted to us requires us as a nation, and as individuals, to absorb very real risks (I could be shot by a stranger, I could be targeted for violence because of hate speech against my race, I could be injured as a police officer or bystander during a riot, I could have a crime committed against me in private and the perpetrator never has to say a word to investigators or be cross examined and may get away with it). All of these examples are very real possibilities for each of us and they all happen regularly because evil is a real thing in our world and it invades the hearts of men and women and brings needless pain and destruction.

We could, however, mitigate against any or all of these risks in the interest of personal and corporate safety by nullifying all of these freedoms. Then we would all be safe, right? Well, in that scenario we would certainly be safe from fellow citizens, but we would not be safe from those fellow citizens who were given significant power and authority in our governmental structures, as they could then determine exactly what can and can’t be said publicly, who can and can’t have a weapon, who can and can’t assemble to demonstrate, and who can and can’t be excused from testifying in a court of law.

So in reality, we will suffer either from the nullification of these extraordinary freedoms by the government OR we will suffer from the irresponsible exercise of these freedoms by a small minority of citizens. Neither of these options is a perfectly safe solution, as that solution does not exist. But freedoms, when preserved, provide liberty to millions upon millions for centuries. Once nullified, however, they place those same millions under the unilateral authority of a very small number of government officials and they are never resurrected without a revolution. So these freedoms always have a cost associated with them and that brings real pain to many. Thus, the question becomes which is the higher cost, to suffer at the hands of a few irresponsible citizens, or to suffer at the hands of an authoritarian government. Having lived in both America and the former Soviet Union, I know which one I prefer. Governments have absolute power when they seize it whereas irresponsible citizens always have limited power.

For example, right now the state of California has sent an actual cease and desist letter to a specific church, Grace Community Church, telling members they cannot choose to meet in their own house of worship and live out their religious convictions. This is a real erosion of constitutional freedoms in the name of safety. I would much rather take the small risk of viral spread over the acquiescence of religious liberty and conscience to governmental officials. Both are calculated risks, but one is a threat for multiple months or a year, the other is a threat for centuries to come.