Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Conflict of Liberties

If you were to cast liberties in order of importance, how would you do so?

With the “Cartoon Riots” raging ‘round the world, it would appear we have a conflict of liberties. Satirists’ freedom of speech versus some Muslims’ narrowly (and dangerously) defined freedom of religious expression (a freedom in their minds - not one I'm suggesting is legitimate).

But, freedom of religious expression ought to stop somewhere on this side of deadly violence, because that is a violation of others’ right to life. This is a clear distinction for most of us most of the time.

If your religious or political beliefs include the notion that sometimes you must kill innocent people, then you are not free to practice those beliefs. It could be considered a restriction of an individual’s rights, but it is a restriction that is nearly universally considered necessary and right.


Generally, we recognize that the liberty to health and life ought to be right up at the top - if my freedom of speech conflicts with your freedom from oppression, you don't have the right to interfere with my freedom to live.

Obvious, huh?

But I think it is a distinction that we don’t often think about and for which we don’t often define intricacies. What are the exceptions or are there exceptions? How would you design such a hierarchy? Or would you?

I think mine would be:

1. Freedom of life trumps most things...
2. Freedom of health (under which clean air and water would fall)
3. Self-determination
4. Speech (although, I may be cautious about how much "expression" I would include under free speech - I DON'T think giving money to political candidates falls under free speech - or at best it's a lesser form of free speech)
5. Religion (and I put religion this far down not because I think religion is less important than the above, but because I don't think most world religions endorse taking away life, health or speech)
6. Property...?

What am I missing? How would you cast the order? What would you add?

I think one caveat I would add is that there are some freedoms to which I don’t believe we are entitled: The liberty of having an easy life, for example, or the freedom of convenience or instant gratification.

What are your thoughts?


Nightcrawler said...

I can't say that I disagree with your points. Here's the way I'd rank them:

1. Life (including self-preservation or self defense, also the right to protect one's health).

2. Liberty (the self-determination that you spoke of)

3. Religion - perhaps this would fall under self-determination? Still, it deserves its own number.

4. Property - Again, Liberty (self-determination) inherently contains this notion but it is deserving of a number. The right to defend one's property should also be respected.

5. Speech - I personally believe that political contributions are a much higher form of speech or expression than that exercised by our "artists" or "musicians" of today. How much does an "artist" contribute to our culture by placing a crucifix in a jar of urine? Do we need the freedom to glorify gang violence and objectify women?

Great post, Dan!

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for the thoughts, NC (and by the way, I added you to my bloglist today, hope that's okay).

So religion trumps speech? Then are you in favor of cartoonists not being able to draw commentary on religious actions?

Seems a difficult road to travel when you're dealing with conflicting liberties, doesn't it?

Nightcrawler said...

I never said that religion TRUMPS speech. Many of these (in my book) are of equal value. One is practically worthless without the other. For instance, without the right to own private property, what good would freedom of speech be? Your printing presses could be seized, your building could be leased out from under you or any other consequences could follow for speech that rubbed someone the wrong way.

What good is the freedom of speech if you are burdened with a state-sponsored religion. Imagine if you attempted to speak against the state's religious leaders. Imagine issuing a critique of any views held by the state church that didn't make sense to you. Am I saying that I am for freedom "from" religion? In the sense that the government stays out of the business of establishing a specific religion, yes.

I don't often attempt to "rank" rights or weigh them against each other. Who is to decide which ones are more valuable than others? I wouldn't want to decide which of your rights were the most important and which could be eschewed for the sake of convenience.

Nightcrawler said...

Of course it's okay for you to add me to your list. I appreciate it.

Dan Trabue said...

"I don't often attempt to "rank" rights or weigh them against each other."

But that's the purpose of this exercise...what do we do when we have two competing liberties? We know that you have a right to swing your fist and I have a right to not be assaulted and those two rights end sometime before your fist meets my nose. That seems clear to most of us.

But what of your "right" to drive as much as you wish...what if that begins to conflict with my "right" to breathe clean air? What do we do with conflicting liberties?

Or am I making too big a deal of this notion?

Nightcrawler said...

No, you're not making too much of this notion. This is when elections come in handy. Let the people decide which rights are more important.

Eleutheros said...

Are we allowed to add to the list?

1. The right to learn from your own mistakes. Closely allied with the right to learn from others' mistakes, and others to learn from yours. Does this trump 'life'? Yes, if our choices are really bad, we eliminate ourselves from the gene pool and serve, not as a good example, but as a horrible warning. Putting ourselves as a buffer between a person and the consequence of their choices abridges this freedom and shows a lack of compassion.

2. The right to act in any way you choose so long as it does not involve force or fraud or prevent others from doing the same. This is similar to 'liberty' but that term has become muddied of late and needs expounded upon.

3. Freedom FROM religion. Other people's that is. We've not had a problem with people practicing their own religion on themselves for more generations than we can count. The problem we have today is other people shoving their religion down our throats. We live in a perverse time where oppostion to a theocracy is tauted as being opposed to someone's religion.

Hamel said...

1) The right to be hold others accountable for their actions when said action(s) infringe upon my rights or happiness.

2) Freedom of speech, as long as all have the same ability to be heard, and not be sold to the highest bidder. RIght now the richest are granted to loudest voice.