Human Events Blog

The redistribution of freedom

In one of the more troubling passages from President Obama’s speech to the U.N. general assembly, he said conflicts sometimes “arise along the fault lines of race or tribe.  And often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world.  In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others.”

(Emphasis mine.)  Really?  Loving freedom for yourself means asking how much freedom you’ll tolerate for other people?  That’s only true if you accept the socialist notion of “positive rights,” in which you have the “right” to various benefits funded by other people.  If you generally accept the notion of an all-powerful State using compulsive force to impose various aspects of your freedom upon others, then yes, freedom is a zero-sum affair, and you’ve got to decide how much of it you’ll tolerate from those who are less politically connected.  Do you tolerate the religious freedom of Catholics who resist government mandates to pay for your contraceptives?

Certainly every society has laws that must be enforced, but laws against criminal trespass are not violations of anyone’s “freedom.”  You have no “right” to appropriate the property of others, defraud them, or kill them for annoying you.

Likewise, in a properly administered Constitutional republic, no one’s exercise of religious liberty is “threatening” to anyone else.  What Obama is tap-dancing around, with his usual confused moral equivalence, is Islam’s unique, chronic difficulty in reconciling its aggressive religious laws with the requirements of a pluralistic society.  He twists himself into a pretzel making silly general arguments about “threatening” religious beliefs because he won’t honestly discuss the one religion interested in making, and keeping, threats.

No other religion currently has a remotely comparable degree of difficulty with this.  Other religions found throughout the modern Western world have concepts of “blasphemy,” but none of them seek to impose those rules violently upon non-believers.  Writing fiery letters to newspaper editors, boycotting the sponsors of media productions that give offense, or even staging peaceful demonstrations against perceived bigotry are not equivalent to vandalism and murder.

The Amish community has very strict rules that would seem to make “interdependence with the modern world” a serious challenge, but they get along just fine, because they have absolutely no interest in imposing their rules upon others.  They don’t even impose the rules of their faith upon their own children, not without giving them a chance to sample the alternatives.  No one outside the Amish community has the slightest reason to find their strict religious beliefs “threatening.”  The Amish don’t feel they “must” ask themselves how much freedom they should “tolerate” for others.  The only real question is how much longer Big Government will “tolerate” theirs.

A fine appreciation for liberty has nothing to do with debating how much freedom you will “tolerate” from others.  You have a very narrow set of unalienable rights which fellow citizens are obliged to respect.  That’s what American “culture” is all about.  Only people with Barack Obama’s statist ambitions view freedom as a limited resource to be redistributed.  He needs to stop pretending that there are high-minded, elegant principles that make it dangerous to draw a cartoon of Mohammed, or satirize him in a movie, while every other prophet and messiah is fair game.  And he needs to stop posturing as if he’s asking agonizing questions that never occurred to America’s founders, or the generations who inherited the brilliance of their Constitution.

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