Many people and corporations complain that their freedoms are being taken away by this law or that law which restricts certain behavior.  Are these smoke screens or do they have a point?  Let’s look at a few cases.

Vermont has passed a law that GMO foods should be labelled as such.  Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association filed suit that this was a violation of their right of free speech.  Is their right of free speech being taken away by requiring a list of ingredients?  If you were on a limited salt diet, wouldn’t you want to compare products for their salt content?  If you had had cancer and should avoid soy lecithin, wouldn’t you want to seek products without soy lecithin?

Admittedly, the First Amendment contains “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the freedom of speech…”; that phrase has no qualifier like “persons” or “people”.  But the Constitution also includes Congress has the power “to regulate Commerce…among the several States…”

I wouldn’t be surprised if these companies also used the “free market” argument.  But “free market” doesn’t mean sellers get to do what they please; it also means that the buyers have all the information they need to make an informed decision.  Jews and Muslims want to know if products contain pork; shouldn’t those who have an aversion to other ingredients also know if products contain those ingredients?

In other words, if food manufacturers are free to deceive us then don’t they take away our freedom to know what we eat?

The First Amendment also contains “people have the right to peaceably assemble”.  Does that give them the right block other people’s right to move about?  I’m sure that meant that people could meet in some hall and discuss whatever was on their minds.  Maybe it also meant that people could assemble at the entrance of a government building, but only if they left room for others to go in and out of the building.  I doubt that the writers of the Bill of Rights considered peaceably assembling as filling the streets for whatever cause.

The gun manufacturers have been working for decades to erode the Second Amendment from the “right of the people to bear arms” (meaning in militias) to the “right of persons to bear arms”.  As late as 1939, a conservative Supreme Court Justice wrote the majority opinion that an individual did not have the right to carry a rifle in a parade, only those in a state-sanctioned militia.

But what is lost in many of the arguments for the individual right to bear arms is where is the argument for the right to not be shot?

Concerning “freedom of religion”, one has to be careful reading some of the stories concerning people’s or corporation’s “freedom of religion”.  Some of these stories have been blown out of proportion; others show that one person’s “freedom of religion” is impinging on another person’s freedom of religion.

If a Christian-owned company required that female Muslim employees not wear head scarves, then does a Muslim-owned company have a right to have all female employees wear head scarves?

In the context of the times of the writing of the Constitution, I think the “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion was more meant if you want to go to a Baptist Church fine, if you want to go to a Methodist Church fine.  I doubt that they would countenance those who believed in virgin sacrifice having free exercise.

If for security reasons banks ask that customers not wear hoods or sunglasses, then should not they ask that women not have their faces covered?  Many a man has escaped from other men by wearing a burqa.  Are the banks violating some customers “freedom of religion” or are they protecting their right not to be robbed?

The Congress that has been so adamant about Second Amendment rights seems equally adamant about walking all over Fourth Amendment rights.  “The right of be people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects…”  What is the “probable cause” of gathering information on who calls whom?  Isn’t a phone call by extension a “paper”?  Thanks, Ron Paul, for your efforts.

Many individuals claim a right to do what pleases them without any consideration on how those actions impinge on other people’s rights.

If there is a right to smoke, isn’t there also a right to breathe clean air?  Although smoking has declined dramatically, there are still too many people that smoke very close to signs “No smoking within 15 feet”.  If someone were to ask them to move away, it is more likely they will get angry rather than apologize and move away.

If there is a right to listen to music, isn’t there also a right to have quiet?  Many people have their car radios turned up so loud that other drivers can barely hear the music on their own radios.  Many people have their earphones turned up so loud that others can’t hear the music on their own earphones.  If you have the right to blast hip-hop up to twenty feet away, do I also have a right to blast Beethoven’s Ninth up to twenty feet away?

I think the thought attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that “Your right to move your fist ends where my nose begins” is apt for almost all of the above cases.  A manufacturer’s “right” to withhold information ends where people’s health begins.  A person’s right to bear arms ends where other people’s safety begins.  A person’s right to freedom of religion ends where it restricts other people’s freedom of religion.  A person’s freedom of assembly ends where it impedes other people’s freedom of movement.

What is lost in all the talk about freedoms is that the basic freedom is the freedom to govern ourselves and not be governed by some foreign power.  And to govern ourselves we elect people to make rules to make society work.  You do vote in every election, don’t you?