Personal Freedom Under Attack

Fireworks explode around the London Eye wheel during New Year celebrations in central London


As Independence Day approaches, it is appropriate to recall that individual freedom was the central concept that inspired the birth of the United States two hundred and forty years ago.

Increasingly, however, that idea is imperiled by the rapid growth of government power to limit the personal, economic, and political rights of citizens. Particularly over the past seven and one-half years, key portions of the Bill of Rights, which legally enshrines American freedom, have been frequently attacked, treated as an irrelevancy, or wholly ignored on both the state and federal levels. The First, Second, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments—one half of the entire document– have all been subjected to this.

Throughout most of U.S. history, freedom of speech has been considered the most precious of personal liberties, and the First Amendment had been treated as sacrosanct.  Disturbingly, that respect has sharply diminished in several ways. Campaign finance regulations seek to regulate how positions are publicized in elections. Obamacare demands that religious organizations put aside their beliefs. In many public and private colleges, students who stray from left-wing orthodoxy are penalized. Federal agencies have been hijacked for partisan use. Local governments have even become involved in the personal dietary choices of individuals. (Philadelphia recently imposed a soda tax, which may only be the first of laws throughout the nation that will infringe on the rights of people to determine what to eat or drink.)

The institutions of the national government, including the IRS and the Department of Justice, have been used to attack those that use their freedom of speech to lawfully disagree with the Executive Branch of government. Various state attorneys general have harassed think tanks that merely question the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Attorney General has considered criminally prosecuting those that disagree with the White House position on climate change.

During her 2009 nominating hearing, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan refused to agree with the concept of unalienable rights, a foundational concept of America expressed in the Declaration of Independence itself as a reason for the separation from England.   In 2012, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, speaking in Cairo, Egypt, said that if she were writing a constitution for a new nation, she wouldn’t use the U.S. constitution as a model.

The President has surrendered internet control to an international organization comprised of several member states that believe censorship is justifiable, and during his tenure in office, sought to have Federal Communications Commission monitors placed in newsrooms.

In the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, Mr. Obama and Secretary Clinton blamed an American video for the assault. Adding insult to injury, it turned out that the video had nothing to do with the incident, yet both still cling to the fabrication.

Writing in MoodyMedia, Dr. Edwin Lutzer notes:  “The censurers, the radicals who are all too ready to deny freedom to those who disagree with them, are perceived in our culture as “tolerant,” and [those who disagree] are viewed as “intolerant.” In other words, the philosophy of the left is preach tolerance, but practice inflexible intolerance to anyone who has the courage to express a different point of view.”

Even in the conduct of our national safety, rather than give full-throated fury at the horrible philosophy of Jihadi extremists who perpetuated the devastating tragedies in Orlando, Fort Hood, and San Bernardino, U.S. government at the highest levels spoke with far more fervor about limiting the Second Amendment rather than increased military action against the bigoted radicals who hate personal liberty.

The misplaced emphasis on restricting the practice of freedom rather than attack those who would abolish it can also be seen in the continuing power of government to invade the privacy of the citizenry, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Many small businesses have been jeopardized by financial regulations ostensibly emplaced to detect illicit foreign funds transfers, but which have in practice accomplished little or nothing.

There was a time when Americans jealously guarded their personal rights.  Over the past several years, however, Washington’s reflexive response to almost every problem has been to adopt new executive actions or agency regulations (Imposed without the consent of Congress by a President that ignores the Constitution’s Separation of Powers mandate and loudly proclaims that he “Can’t wait for Congress”) that don’t solve the issue at hand but further limit freedom.

This tendency was foreseen by the framers of the Bill of Rights, who, in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, specifically limited the powers of the federal government, and even noted that powers not specifically mentioned in the Constitution belong to the people, not the federal government.

Throughout humanity’s long history, there have been many names for oppressive government: monarchies, dictatorships, Nazi, Fascist, theocratic, Communist and Socialist regimes.  Despite differing titles and symbols, all share the same over-arching philosophy: the power of government overrules the rights of individuals.  America must stop heading down that path.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor in chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

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