“America, to me, is freedom.” —Willie Nelson, American singer and songwriter.On this 4th of July, let’s take some time to remember and reflect on the set of beliefs that America was founded upon. The following quote is found in the Library of Congress in the opening section titled, “Creating the United States”:
The American republic was founded on a set of beliefs that were tested during the Revolutionary War. Among them was the idea that all people are created equal, whether European, Native American, or African American, and that these people have fundamental rights, such as liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and freedom of assembly. America’s revolutionaries openly discussed these concepts. Many Americans agreed with them but some found that the ideology was far more acceptable in the abstract than in practice. (Quote source here.)
Let’s take a look at these fundamental rights as they are listed above: liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and freedom of assembly. The following information on our fundamental rights is provided by Wikipedia and a link is provided individually at the end of each of these rights listed below.
Broadly speaking, liberty is the ability to do as one pleases. In modern politics, liberty consists of the social, political, and economic freedoms to which all community members are entitled. In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of “sin, spiritual servitude, [or] worldly ties.”
Sometimes liberty is differentiated from freedom by using the word “freedom” primarily, if not exclusively, to mean the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do; and using the word “liberty” to mean the absence of arbitrary restraints, taking into account the rights of all involved. In this sense, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others. Thus liberty entails the responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of their freedom. Freedom is more broad in that it represents a total lack of restraint or the unrestrained ability to fulfill one’s desires. For example, a person can have the freedom to murder, but not have the liberty to murder, as the latter example deprives others of their right not to be harmed. Liberty can be taken away as a form of punishment. In many countries, people can be deprived of their liberty if they are convicted of criminal acts. (Quote source and additional information here.)
Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term “freedom of expression” is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.
Freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. The version of Article 19 in the ICCPR later amends this by stating that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”.
Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as being absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech related to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury. Justifications for such include the harm principle, proposed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, which suggests that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Quote source and additional information here.)
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. It also includes the freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs.
Freedom of religion is considered by many people and most of the nations to be a fundamental human right. In a country with a state religion, freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths. Freedom of belief is different. It allows the right to believe what a person, group or religion wishes, but it does not necessarily allow the right to practice the religion or belief openly and outwardly in a public manner.
Historically, “freedom of religion” has been used to refer to the tolerance of different theological systems of belief, while “freedom of worship” has been defined as freedom of individual action. Each of these have existed to varying degrees. While many countries have accepted some form of religious freedom, this has also often been limited in practice through punitive taxation, repressive social legislation, and political disenfranchisement. Compare examples of individual freedom in Italy or the Muslim tradition of dhimmis, literally “protected individuals” professing an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion. (Quote source and additional information here.)
Due Process of Law
Due process is the legal requirement that the state must respect all legal rights that are owed to a person. Due process balances the power of law of the land and protects the individual person from it. When a government harms a person without following the exact course of the law, this constitutes a due process violation, which offends the rule of law.
Due process has also been frequently interpreted as limiting laws and legal proceedings (see substantive due process) so that judges, instead of legislators, may define and guarantee fundamental fairness, justice, and liberty. That interpretation has proven controversial. Analogous to the concepts of natural justice, and procedural justice used in various other jurisdictions, the interpretation of due process is sometimes expressed as a command that the government must not be unfair to the people or abuse them physically. The term is not used in contemporary English law, but two similar concepts are natural justice, which generally applies only to decisions of administrative agencies and some types of private bodies like trade unions, and the British constitutional concept of the rule of law as articulated by A.V. Dicey and others. However, neither concept lines up perfectly with the American theory of due process, which, as explained below, presently contains many implied rights not found in either ancient or modern concepts of due process in England.
Due process developed from clause 39 of Magna Carta in England. Reference to due process first appeared in a statutory rendition of clause 39 in 1354 thus: “No man of what state or condition he be, shall be put out of his lands or tenements nor taken, nor disinherited, nor put to death, without he be brought to answer by due process of law.” When English and American law gradually diverged, due process was not upheld in England but became incorporated in the US Constitution….
In the United States, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution each contain a Due Process Clause. Due process deals with the administration of justice and thus the Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government outside the sanction of law. The Supreme Court of the United States interprets the clauses as providing four protections: procedural due process (in civil and criminal proceedings, substantive due process, a prohibition against vague laws, and as the vehicle for the incorporation of the Bill of Rights. (Quote source and additional information here.)
Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of peaceful assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right or ability of people to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue, and defend their collective or shared ideas. The right to freedom of association is recognized as a human right, a political right and a civil liberty.
The terms “freedom of assembly” and “freedom of association” may be used to distinguish between the freedom to assemble in public places and the freedom to join an association. Freedom of assembly is often used in the context of the right to protest, while freedom of association is used in the context of labor rights and in the Constitution of the United States is interpreted to mean both the freedom to assemble and the freedom to join an association.
The United States Constitution explicitly provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” in the First Amendment.
Freedom of assembly is included in, among others, the following human rights instruments:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 20
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Article 21
- European Convention on Human Rights – Article 11
- American Convention on Human Rights – Article 15 (Quote source for the above information on “Freedom of Assembly” and additional information here.)
As we celebrate the 4th of July, which is one of the most American of all of the holidays we celebrate (along with Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day), may we remember that the cost of freedom is never free, and it should always be defended. I’ll end this post with the words from the title of YouTube song below…
God Bless . . .
The . . .
U. S. A. . . .
YouTube Video: “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood: