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Freedom and the Moral Compass

Freedom in our great country is entirely dependent upon a moral compass. For example, our freedom of speech is predicated upon a moral understanding of how the tongue can divide, deceive, and denigrate. All individual freedoms are tied to this moral compass. This means we don’t need additional rules or laws to regulate behavior if an individual’s moral compass guides the exercise of free speech, for example to limit yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

The dependence of freedoms on a moral compass is what allows an individual (a sworn School Resource Office) to be inside a school with a loaded gun, no matter the gun. We don’t worry about regulating the gun because we trust the judgment and integrity of the person holding it. Freedom with a moral compass is what makes peaceful assemblies normal and not to be feared. The issue isn’t whether or not freedoms are acceptable. The crux of the issue is whether or not individual freedoms can be exercised devoid of a moral compass and, if so, how? Government intrusion.

When citizens exercise their freedoms without a moral compass, public outcry follows. Protests that turn into looting and destruction of property increase government intrusion in the form of police presence and oversight. Shootings result in more gun control legislation. The limitations on government contained in the Bill of Rights outline a citizenry capable of exercising those rights within the context of a moral, upstanding society. Benjamin Franklin described it this way: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. ”

Without a moral compass, a mediator must stand in the void. We have seen this mediation in the form of increased legislation impacting all our Constitutional freedoms. While the Bill of Rights and more specifically the 1st Amendment prevents the establishment of religion (aka entanglement) , the entirety of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and other founding documents explicitly connects freedom to faith. This reliance of freedom on faith is a fundamental precept to our country; it is not up for debate and it is what draws people to our country. Alexis de Tocqueville, a french diplomat, political scientist and historian, traveled the US during 1830s and noted of this aspect of our government and culture in his book “Democracy in America” (1835).

Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de tocqueville.jpg
Alexis de Tocqueville

Upon the completion of our Constitution, Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The point is this: with freedom comes a moral response and moral responsibility of its citizens to freedom. The response in this case was the formation of a Constitutional Republic containing the apex of freedom from government, which is the Bill of Rights. The responsibility is to maintain a virtuous society if we want to keep it [freedom].

As a nation, we must acknowledge the consequential importance of a moral compass to freedom while simultaneously releasing our dependence to the pen of legislation. Only then will we liberate freedom from the clenched fist of government.