The limits of our liberties

Americans have always debated the limit of our liberties. Can you yell “fire!” in a crowded theater? When do my liberties limit yours?

The problem with individual liberty is that it must always be weighed against the social responsibility we have to our fellow citizens. Some of those liberties are highly problematic today.

Our Supreme Court has recognized corporations as citizens with the corresponding liberties. They can vote with their billions of dollars in donations to campaigns. They have the right to rig our elections with money to get who and what they want from government. The Koch brothers can push for the pipeline they own to transport dirty Canadian oil over American soil to their refineries here — and then export it all out of America. Congress is fighting hard for Koch’s liberty to add to their billions in wealth while endangering our environment and not keeping one drop of oil here.

Big Oil is copying Big Tobacco’s tactics of using public relations, phony studies and paid scientist “spokesmen” to blind us to the dangers. With the tobacco companies it was lung cancer; with the oil companies it is climate change. Now Big Tobacco has upped their game. No longer able to market cigarettes to children, they are now marketing their e-cigarettes in familiar candy and cereal flavors to children by advertising in children’s media. Think the Koch brothers might come up with teeter totters on the pipeline or something?

The whole fossil fuel industry has learned from tobacco tactics. Electric companies and Coal are trying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing stricter pollution standards by saying that they have not weighed these rules against the costs of implementation. Of course they don’t want the medical costs of the asthma upsurge in children to be used in the calculations. Public health be damned! They could update Patrick Henry’s saying with: “Give me liberty, give them death — whatever.” Conservative Congressmen can dutifully brush off some of their usual Money Morality Speeches.

Pity the poor wedding florist. His liberty to push his religion onto his clients is being infringed upon if he must service gay couples. Come on! We settled this during the desegregation movement in the sixties. If you are in public business, you must serve all the public. You can’t discriminate because of your beliefs, be it either religious or race intolerance. We made a strict law on this. Just to guide you in business morality.

And while we are into small businesses, we should look at the right to deny birth control to employees, even if they are not in your religion, and even if the government will pay for it. Is the liberty here the right for an employer to force his religious views on his employees? Some are taking this to court saying that making them fill out a one sheet form stating their stand is too much work and is thus infringing on their freedom of religion. What a stretch.

Let’s take one large heroic company: Nestle. When asked to stop pumping water for their bottled water out of California’s drought-stricken national parks, their president, unlike others, said no he will continue. And he hasn’t even had a contract to do so. Let freedom ring!

Or let’s look at a whole industry: gun manufacturers. Congress has given them the liberty to run their industry without any oversight whatsoever. No other industry has this. Yoyo makers, bean-bag chairs, wooden spoons. Nobody.

And politicians. How can I leave them out? They are fighting an equitable system of redistricting. This is the right of the controlling state party, their liberty.

Are there liberties that we can balance out against the liberties of these privileged few? Yes. On elections, do we voters not have the liberty to contribute our time and money to elect people who will represent our interests, to control our own government? Isn’t there something in the constitution on this?

Don’t we have the liberty to keep our kids from being exposed to addictive tobacco or from breathing polluted coal dust that will cut their lives short? Don’t all of us have the liberty to buy any product or service that is sold on the open market and to be waited on with curtesy and respect? Do we have the liberty to accept help with birth control costs from the government without obeying our employer’s dictates? Do we have the liberty not to be bullied by the powerful?

When I was growing up, taking liberties had another meaning. Like most young boys, I tried desperately to take liberties with girls. When I became a father, I guarded ferociously against boys taking liberties with my daughter.

Watch it. The corporations that are pushing for their individual liberties are really just trying to take liberties — with us.