Category: Individual Liberty

Wikimedia

Wikimedia

On Tuesday, President Obama declared this week Captive Nations Week. The first Captive Nations Week was in 1959, proclaimed by President Eisenhower to call attention to the oppression of several countries in the Soviet Bloc and to encourage Americans to support fight for democracy and liberty worldwide. Enjoy the six quotes below as we observe a week dedicated to the beauty of freedom and decrying the continued existence of tyranny:

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President Eisenhower signed the first Captive Nations Week into law on July 17, 1959. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

President Eisenhower signed the first Captive Nations Week into law on July 17, 1959. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

On July 17, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation declaring the third week of July “Captive Nations Week” for that year and every year “until such time as freedom and independence shall have been achieved for all the captive nations of the world.” At the time, Eisenhower was condemning the unjust and oppressive Soviet regime and lending a voice to those countries trapped under Soviet rule. The threat of the Soviet Union no longer exists today. Still, we have celebrated Captive Nations Week every year since 1959, and are doing so this year, because, unfortunately, threats to freedom persist today.

President Obama released a beautiful proclamation this week that extols the value of liberty and the power of the American commitment to the ideals of democracy and freedom at home and abroad.

Since our earliest days, the United States has worked to uphold the rights enshrined in our founding documents. The ideals that sparked our revolution find their truest expression in democracy, and our enduring belief in the right to self-govern is not limited to our borders — we believe the human impulse toward freedom is universal. During Captive Nations Week, we recognize the inherent dignity of all people, and we renew our support for those struggling under oppressive regimes and striving to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.

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shutterstock/cnnmoney

shutterstock/cnnmoney

Vox recently published an article claiming that Charles Koch is right and Bernie Sanders is wrong about how the economy is rigged. Both agree that there are laws that unfairly favor some financially over others. Sanders often claimed during his campaign that the rich have used their money to lobby for laws that favor their interests over those of everyone else.  Meanwhile, Charles Koch has condemned excessive regulation and restrictions on economic freedom that allow the few to bend laws in their financial favor against the many. In looking at the real problem in the economy, Charles Koch’s analysis of the problem comes closer to the truth.

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The Spanish novelist Cervantes wrote his famous tale about a knight-errant almost 200 years before the the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. But as Eric C. Graf, Professor of Literature at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, explains, Don Quixote paved the way for freedom of religious conscience by championing the freedom to think or believe what you want in your head.

shutterstock

shutterstock image

People often criticize the vast size and scope of the bureaucracy in the United States, but there is another critical issue involving the administrative state that is seldom discussed: the breakdown of the rule of law. The procedural rights that are necessary for a strong rule of law and are so often taken for granted are not guaranteed in the administrative state today.

Strong rule of law is one of the necessary elements for a free and virtuous society, and for a free and functioning market. There are many definitions and nuances in the principle of the rule of law, but the central tenets require that laws apply to all people equally and are enforced consistently and fairly. Proper rule of law precludes arbitrary enforcement, inaccessible or unclear laws, and inconsistent application. The breakdown of rule of law leaves political, religious, and economic freedom vulnerable, endangering the very foundation of our republic. Where rule of law is weak, tyranny and oppression reign.

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“Limits on free speech is uniquely troubling for the future health of a free society,” wrote Ray Nothstine in an Acton Commentary. “Students become accustomed to having their rights limited, and will be more lethargic in countering possible oppression from a growing and intrusive state.”

Nothstine wrote those words in 2008 — and they’ve proven to be distressingly prophetic. Every year for the past decade limitations on speech by students has been increasing, leading an entire generation to assume such restriction are to be expected.

Fortunately, this country’s founding generation did not take the limitations of their freedoms so lightly. But what if  our constitution had been written like campus speech codes?

 

breach-entry-gwle-lead-600x384.1421390599“Law professors and lawyers instinctively shy away from considering the problem of law’s violence,” says Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter. “Every law is violent. We try not to think about this, but we should.”

Carter, one of the most astute legal minds in America, rightfully points out the inherent violence embedded in the law. But he draws some unfortunate conclusions from this fact:

On the first day of law school, I tell my Contracts students never to argue for invoking the power of law except in a cause for which they are willing to kill. They are suitably astonished, and often annoyed. But I point out that even a breach of contract requires a judicial remedy; and if the breacher will not pay damages, the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.

This is by no means an argument against having laws.

It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. Behind every exercise of law stands the sheriff – or the SWAT team – or if necessary the National Guard. Is this an exaggeration? Ask the family of Eric Garner, who died as a result of a decision to crack down on the sale of untaxed cigarettes. That’s the crime for which he was being arrested. Yes, yes, the police were the proximate cause of his death, but the crackdown was a political decree.

The statute or regulation we like best carries the same risk that some violator will die at the hands of a law enforcement officer who will go too far. And whether that officer acts out of overzealousness, recklessness, or simply the need to make a fast choice to do the job right, the violence inherent in law will be on display. This seems to me the fundamental problem that none of us who do law for a living want to face.

But all of us should.

On my first reading of this passage I completely agreed with Professor Carter (who is, unfortunately, no relation). But after giving it some thought I realized it obscures more than it illuminates. To understand where he errs, we must first ask, “What is the law?”
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