Category: Individual Liberty

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Most of us associate the words “I have a dream” with the iconic speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. But there was a woman, nearly 200 years earlier, who wrote of her own impassioned dreams of liberty.

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 in England and championed social and educational equality for women. The daughter of a farmer, Wollstonecraft came to debate the likes of Edmund Burke regarding natural law, revolution and individual liberty.

What is intriguing about Wollstonecraft is that she continued the discussion in this later book in order to apply for the first time these ideas about individual liberty to women as well as men. Having established this to be the case to her satisfaction she then asked the further question why were women in the subordinate position they were in vis-à-vis men? Her answer was that they were held in this position by a combination of force (laws which discriminated against them in terms of property ownership, education, and marriage) and established opinion regarding the proper role of women in the home and in society. Her solution was to equalize women before the law and to encourage parents to devote the same effort in educating their daughters as they did their sons.

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Archbishop Damaskinos

Archbishop Damaskinos

This is a doubly significant day in the nation of Greece in that not only is the Annunciation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) observed but also Independence Day. March 25 commemorates the start of the War of Greek Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire and the tourkokratia or Turkish rule that is traced back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The occasion is marked with much pomp, parades and speech making in Greece and where large numbers of Greek immigrants have settled all over the world. This week also marked the anniversary of another stirring witness to freedom and human dignity, this one by a heroic churchman.

On March 23, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, signed his name on a letter addressed to the collaborationist Prime Minister K. Logothetopoulos. The letter, composed by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, was a courageous defense of the Greek Jews who were being rounded up and it was signed by other prominent Greek citizens. “The Greek people were rightfully surprised and deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community of Salonika to places beyond our national borders, and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland,” the archbishop wrote. “The grief of the Greek people is particularly deep … ” When the Germans continued with the deportations, Damaskinos called the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, to his office and told him, “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” (more…)

pj-orourkeAn amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case.

Typically, amici are serious—and dull—documents. You won’t find many that include references to “Full House (ABC 1987-1995),” Vladimir Putin, Torquemada, “Gilmore Girls (Warner Bros. 2000-2007),” Chris Rock, Salman Rushdie, and “The Avengers (Marvel Studios 2012).” And you’re likely to find even fewer that recommend the state of Texas be declared “unconstitutional.” But all of that was included in a brief submitted by humorist P.J. O’Rourke (and friends) in a case heard yesterday by the US Supreme Court.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), argued before the court its free-speech rights were violated when the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles rejected its proposal for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag. In their amicus brief supporting SCV, O’Rourke, et al argued that the state of Texas had “empowered the State Department of Motor Vehicles to prevent people from being offended by license plates.”

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Isabel Paterson

Isabel Paterson

“If there were just one gift you could choose, but nothing barred, what would it be? We wish you then your own wish: you name it. Our is liberty, now and forever.”

Isabel Paterson came to influence the likes of Ayn Rand and William F. Buckley, but her early life was rough and tumble. One of nine children, Paterson had only two years of formal education but loved to read. Her father had a difficult time making a living and was constantly uprooting his family in search of work. However, Paterson credited her early life for teaching her self-sufficiency and hard work.

As a teen, she moved to Calgary and began a career as a journalist. It was in Vancouver that she found her voice, writing about the changing role of women both in the family and in the world, and chiding those with servants for their snobbish attitudes towards those who worked for them. (more…)

ssmweddingcakeThe U.S. judiciary has made it increasingly clear that the rights of conscience either do not apply or are strictly limited for people who own businesses that serve the public. We have an obligation to keep fighting against this injustice against this judicial tyranny, but in the meantime, what are business owners to do? How, for example, should they respond when forced to violate their conscience by serving a same-sex wedding?

That question has been recently debated on Public Discourse, the excellent website of the Witherspoon Institute, by Russell K. Nieli and Jeffery J. Ventrella. Both men agree it would be morally permissible and even commendable for business owners to avoid violating the law by ceasing to serve all weddings, whether traditional or same-sex, or even by ceasing operations completely and finding another line of work. But they disagree on other options. Nieli suggests it would be morally permissible for such shopkeepers to comply with the law and provide services to same-sex couples if they also announced publicly. Ventrella disagrees, arguing that complying with an unjust law is always morally wrong and thus that any shopkeeper implementing Nieli’s suggestion would be engaged in an action that is inherently immoral.

Robert T. Miller joins the debate and asserts that a shopkeeper who objects to sex-same weddings but who nevertheless provides services at such weddings generally acts in a morally permissible way if he acts to comply with a validly-enacted law, to preserve the goodwill of his business, and to make a just profit.
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coverstory-1Last year Washington State’s Attorney General sued Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts on the basis of consumer protection. Florist Barronelle Stutzman had refused to sell flowers to a long time customer when the arrangements were to be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Although Stutzman did not have any qualms about serving serving gay customers, she “didn’t want to be involved in a same-sex marriage.” “I just put my hands on his and told [the customer who made the request] because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding,” Stutzman said in a deposition.

A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that the law trumped her rights of conscience. “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” said Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom in his 60-page opinion.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced last Thursday that he would accept $2,000 in penalties, $1 in fees and costs, plus an agreement not to discriminate in the future and to end further litigation.
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PLI-wandererMy parents should have been jailed for child neglect.

At least that’s what would be their fate if I were growing up today. Fortunately for them (and for me), I was a child during the 1970s, a time when kids were (mostly) free to explore the world.

At age seven I was allowed to wander a mile in each direction from my home. By age nine I was exploring the underground sewers and drainage system of Wichita Falls, Texas. When I was a 12 I was given a .22 semi-automatic rifle and allowed to roam the woods all day. I had almost total freedom as long as I agreed to one condition: I had to take my younger brother along with me.

We didn’t have cellphones to serve as electronic leashes; we merely had the setting sun as a guide to when we had to be home. Until dusk, our parents rarely knew where on the planet we were.

As a Gen-Xer I’m probably part of the last generation who had childhoods in which we were free to roam. However, some parents—part of the “free range parenting” movement—are trying to preserve that fading legacy. For their attempts to instill confidence and self-reliance in their children they are increasingly being treated as horrible parents. For example, a a 10-year old-boy and his 6-year-old sister were recently walking home from a park in an affluent Maryland suburb. The police stopped them and are now investigating their parents for child neglect

The children’s mother, Danielle Meitiv, pointed out the absurdity of framing the issue as a matter of “safety”:
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pic_giant_020915_SM_Paul-Preaching-Raphael“Christianity undergirded the development of Western liberalism (in the old, good sense of the word),” says Rich Lowry. In fact, without Christianity there would probably not be anything like what we conceive as true liberty:

The indispensable role of Christianity in the creation of individual rights and ultimately of secularism itself is the subject of the revelatory new intellectual history Inventing the Individual by Larry Siedentop. Here’s hoping that President Obama gives it a quick skim before he next takes the podium at a prayer breakfast.

Siedentop begins his story with the ancients. The Greeks and Romans of pre-history weren’t secular; the family was, as Siedentop calls it, a religious cult run by the paterfamilias and suffused with ritual and assumptions of social inequality. We are all pro-family, but we can agree that ancestor worship takes it a little far.

At this time, Siedentop points out, the key distinction wasn’t between the public and private spheres, but between the public and domestic spheres, the latter characterized by the family with its rigidly defined hierarchical roles. There was no space for the individual with his or her own rights.

Read more . . .

billofrightsWhen the Founding Fathers were drafting the U.S. Constitution, they didn’t initially consider adding a Bill of Rights to protect citizens because it was deemed unnecessary. It was only after the Constitution’s supporters realized such a bill was essential to getting approved by the states that they proposed enumerating such rights in twelve amendments. (Ten amendments were ratified; two others, dealing with the number of representatives and with the compensation of senators and representatives, were not.)

The Bill of Rights was included in 1791 to limit the power of the Federal government and secure individual liberty. But in 2015 those rights are being eroded as more power is handed over to the government by the courts. As David Corbin and Matt Parks claim, the structural limitations of the Constitution have all disappeared, swallowed up by ideas like “commerce,” “general welfare,” and “necessary and proper.”
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The 2015 Acton Lecture Series continued on January 29th with a presentation by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks, who delivered a great talk on what really leads to happiness in life. In an era when Americans are finding less and less satisfaction with their nation while enjoying great abundance compared to much of the rest of the world and overall human history, what can we do to regain our confidence in the American enterprise system that has lifted much of the world out of poverty? Brooks explains, and you can hear his explanation via the video player below.