Why the religious should support liberty

America had as many of it’s founders and early settlers those who were fleeing religious persecution.  That in their home country, a state religion or government controlled by one religion was persecuting all others.

The American founding fathers belonged to many different religions.  Lumping many of them together as Christian was something that really started in the mid 20th century.

Our founders had one of two options.  Either,

  1. Try to setup one religion and risk the mistakes of the countries they fled.
  2. Setup a government that had to respect each person’s religious views

Especially with the spread of Martin Luther’s work, which says that each person is responsible for their connection to god.  This means that there are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians.

So which one should win?  Which version of Christianity should win?

The Founders ended up on the side that none of the Christian versions should win over another.  And the only way they could see to do that was to write the Constitution to not allow ANY religion to win.  Some see this as the argument for “separation of church and state”.

Because if ANY religion got its way in the government rules then it was virtually guaranteed that some other religions would be losing.  America was meant to be a land of freedom for all.  And that included freedom for all religions.  Which meant no one could force their religion on anyone else.

No matter how religious you are, would you really want another Christian telling you that were doing it wrong and force their rules on you?

Within the United States, we have so many different version of Christianity.

Government Intervention – your body

Where should governmental powers of intervention with regards to your body start and stop?

Let’s start with an example to start the discussion of the ideas:  You have been diagnosed with a serious illness, your prognosis is not good.  Current medical techniques are insufficient to help you.  Your doctor lets you know there is an experimental procedure originally created by an American company, that has already been approved in Europe but has not yet passed the FDA.  You are going to die unless you do something, so you want to take this experimental drug.  As it stands, the FDA will not legally allow you to take it, one supposes under the concern that you might die.

Who should get control over whether you can take a drug or not?  You or the FDA?

Several modifying factors:

  • There is a clear legal situation to already cover it when a person is deemed “not in their right mind”.  We have laws and cases to handle it when someone is not capable of making sound decisions for their life.  Let’s assume that is still the case and independent of this discussion.  In other words, we are assuming that you are capable of “informed consent” about what you are doing to your body.  The FDA is not needed here.
  • We also already have clear case law to cover it when a company hurts people through gross negligence or fails to inform the users/consumers of the risks in their product.   Again for the purposes, this exists currently and we would assume that would continue, so the company would be breaking the law if they were making shoddy drugs or failing to inform the consumer.  The FDA is not needed here.

So in the above cases, the Judicial system already handles things, protecting liberty.

FDA as the role of informing people about the respective concerns with drugs seems to maximize liberty.

What level of control should the FDA have about telling you what you can and cannot consume?

The government tried prohibition of alcohol to a massive failure in the early 1900’s.

One argument that really worries me as dangerous is “the government should have control over your body to protect you from yourself.”

This argument is typically used as a justification for criminalizing “serious” drugs or making euthanasia illegal.

But if we accept the premise that the government should be taking control of your body away from you to protect you from yourself then we have an interesting situation…

We have more than enough evidence about current health trends to know that most people are killing themselves through their diet and exercise levels.  The top killers of Americans are all related to their diet, not guns or terrorists.

Since that is the case, then if the government has a duty to interfere to protect you from your own decisions about your body, then by extension the government SHOULD, especially in light of the risk to American lives, be making it illegal to not exercise, it should be illegal to eat certain quantities of bad food.

If you think the government should not be doing that, then perhaps you think the government can not use the excuse of protecting you from yourself.

I think there are clearly a number of very serious things that you can do to your body that should be regulated.  I am comfortable with the idea that any serious drug use should be heavily regulated.  We administer many very serious drugs in hospitals under a doctor’s discretion.  Other countries have been able to lower their serious drug usage by having clinics that provide the drugs.  So instead of people using unhealthy needles or being in dangerous circumstances, they are in a clean clinic where they can get counseling to stop, even while they are still using.  Now you know any serious drug user is getting treatment.   Telling them they will go to jail if they use will not help if they are addicted.  Many of these drugs have power medicinal purposes.  Why does the government get to tell you what you can do with your body?  If you are aware of the risks and the drug can help you deal with the pain, why shouldn’t you be able to do that with supervision?

Like the first amendment, it specifically means that when you give someone a liberty, then they may not do what you want with it.  But that has to be their choice.  Many Christian religions say that God gave mankind choice, that humans need to CHOOSE him, that is the point of faith.  You can’t legislate that someone believes in God.  If you give people free speech, then there will be some people who will say things you don’t like.  But without free speech then life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are worse.  The same with control of your own body.  If the government must not interfere with your liberty to choose what to do with your body, then some will surely do something stupid with their body.  Btu the reverse is worse.  Do you want a government that can tell you that you must take certain drugs, that you must eat in a certain way?

I am very comfortable with the idea that euthanasia should be heavily regulated.  It should probably require a psych evaluation to determine if you are in your right mind and capable of informed consent.  Eg.  someone who is in the last stages of a really nasty and painful cancer.  They are in constant and intense pain and there is no hope of a fix.  Just a grinding of time while everyone suffers, especially the person with cancer.  It is only a matter of time.  It seems cruel to take away their control of their body.  The constitution makes it illegal to perform cruel and unusual punishment.  That seems like a place for a regulated euthanasia.

Now if you are someone who believes that all life is sacred and should never be taken, then you should be in support of this.  Because if the government has the right to control your body, then in the situation above, the government could regulate that you must be killed, to reduce the suffering and hideous expense.  If you think the government shouldn’t be regulating what happens to your body, then that means that people must be free to make their own decisions.

Maybury’s Two Laws

Based on the work of Richard Maybury.

As I remember it, these are based on his research and analysis into the most basic laws that hold civilization together.  He looked at both the common principles to all major good religions.  He also paired that with the common principles for every well-functioning society.

I often think of these as the basic building blocks to societal “social contracts”.

They are, and I am paraphrasing.

  • Do all you have agreed to do.
  • Do not infringe upon others and their property.

The first law is most commonly tied to contract law, or “business law”.  Eg we have a business agreement and if I violate it, then there must be restitution.

The second law is most commonly tied to tort or “criminal law”.  Eg. theft, if I harm you directly, or steal from you then there must be restitution.

The more these laws are followed by a society and it’s government, the better that society functions and thrives.

The more these laws are violated, either because the people in that society are able to break the laws without consequence, or most especially in modern societies, violated by the government itself, then the worse the society functions and thrives.

To Criminalize or De-criminalize

Create a model enabling more productive discussions around the options to criminalize an activity vs regulate vs de-regulate.

From a minimalist point of view, we want to provide the most freedom and liberty for an individual while protecting others freedom from being infringed upon by others doing the activity.

Eg. Jefferson ~~”You are free to swing your fist where ever you want until it hits my nose.”

A key question when looking at any activity is, to quote Penn Jillette.
~~”Can this problem be solved with more freedom?”

Important note, at all levels of the pyramid there is still the rule of law.  The choice is not between anarchy vs tyranny.  We are discussing gradients of the amount of law and freedom.  Even the top of the pyramid still has law protecting individual freedom and rights.

 

As a minimalist, my primary goal is to establish the activities that can be moved up the pyramid.  Even if we can only move it one step, that is always better.

Eg. moving marijuana up from Criminalize to Heavy Regulation.

Eg. moving alcohol up from Heavy Regulation to Light Regulation, allowing parents to determine the best use of alcohol in their homes.  Catholic-like religions should be able to give wine to a teen as part of the sacrament.

The organization LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition makes the argument very conclusively as law enforcement agents, that criminalizing many activities is worse for the society than regulation.  If you truly abhor an activity and think it is terrible, you should NOT criminalize that, that just drives it underground fueling a black market.  Instead, you should regulate it to drive those addicted to safe outlets.  Eg heroin clinics instead of crack dens.

Government intervention

Trying to find the best way to think about when we should have government intervention and when we should not.

The founding fathers set up some very clear guidance that helps but still leaves some serious gray areas.

Jefferson ~~”That which breaks my arm or picks my pocket” are clearly areas where the government has a role in defending liberty.

or Jefferson again ~~”You are free to swing your fist where ever you want to until hits my nose”.

This leads to uncomfortable questions about how you give someone as much freedom as possible without interfering others liberty.

For example, Jill is a principled, ethical and religious doctor.  She believes very strongly in the value of life.  More specifically, never taking a life.  She is against the death penalty, strongly favors social assistance programs to help refugees and those in poverty or other life threating situations.  In her view “it is never okay to take another life.”  For this doctor is against her morals and religion to perform an abortion.  The only exception would be when it is life threatening for the mother, that is the only time it is okay.

Under what circumstances should this doctor be able to stay true to her convictions and in what circumstances should she be required by the force of law to perform an abortion that completely violates her personal ethics?

If we assume a legal right for a woman to choose an abortion, eg. Roe v Wade.  Then this gets complicated.

The above example led me to think about two guidelines for when the provider of a service is no longer allowed liberty in choosing who they provide services to.  But they should be allowed liberty in all other circumstances.

The two guidelines are:

  1. Monopoly – when the provider of the service has either an intentional or unintentional monopoly on the service.  Eg.  they are the only doctor in range, they are the only company providing electricity.
  2. Vital – the service is deemed vital to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Eg. electricity to your home is vital, medicine you will die without is vital, and Roe v Wade establishes the right to abortion as vital.

Note, that in both of the above guidelines they can be sliding scales.  When someone has a monopoly and when they don’t may have multiple dependencies.   When something is vital and when something is not vital will be a thing that changes as society and the world changes.

Examples:

Wedding cake – even if the wedding cake service provider is the only one in the state, they can choose to not make a cake for a gay wedding if they so choose.  A wedding cake is NOT a vital service and further, the charge of monopoly is weak, eg.  Someone else can make a cake in their kitchen.

Pharmacist – who morally, religiously and, depending on who you ask, wrongly believes that AIDS is a sign of a sin against god and wants to refuse to carry AIDS medication.  The AIDS medication is easily classified as vital to life.  However, the monopoly part is harder.  If this person is the only pharmacist in town, then they have a monopoly and they MUST sell the medication.  If this is one of 4 drugstores in the middle of town and the other 3 are selling the medication.  The pharmacist is free to make the choice for themselves.

Are their examples where the guidelines fall apart?

Or are these guidelines enough to help most people see a path forward to providing as much liberty as possible but still providing protection in the more gray areas?