Is it fair to ask for freedom and safety? Whether it is in society as a whole or watching a small child romp around a playground, the delicate balance of safety and freedom tips and teeters back and forth like playful toddlers on a seesaw. A prominent question looms in society today. What is more important, freedom or safety?
In order to fully understand the issue, definitions must be provided. Freedom is defined as “the condition of being free from restraints” (Freedom). Safety is defined as “the condition of being safe; freedom from danger, risk, or injury” (Safety). Interestingly enough, these definitions overlap. The definition of safety actually contains the word freedom. Ambiguity and confusion seem to be intertwined in this case. Discussing freedom and safety naturally should start somewhere that we’re all familiar with, the stage of society in the .
Norman Scott Mills of Freedom4ever.net says that “We have to be free to choose our own destiny. Free to make our own choices. We should be free sovereign autonomous individuals. Free to have the Power and Right of self-determination over our own minds, bodies, lives and souls. There is No Greater Tyranny then to take away the Freedom and Power of Individual Choice, there is No Greater Tenant to Liberty and Freedom than the Freedom and Power to Choose, for everyone individually, and No Greater Power can be given the Individual, than the Freedom and Power to Choose, to Foster within every one of us, the human spirit, which yearns to be free” (Mills). Obviously, Mills is not afraid to take a stand in regard to freedom in . His words echo that of many of our founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. However, a larger question looms when this freedom is coupled with the question of safety.
What exactly is public safety? The North Carolina State University Department of Public Safety says that public safety “is responsible for maintaining a safe and pleasant environment in which to live and learn” (What is Public Safety?). On the surface, safety would not seem to interfere with freedom. Safety and freedom are both virtues that Americans see as being staples of society. The delicate balance of freedom and safety is something that these same Americans probably have not put much thought into. How could these two incredibly important virtues possibly disagree?
A real-world example of the conflict between freedom and safety is deeply rooted in American culture, realized or not. The events of September 11, 2001, forever changed how the line between freedom and safety is drawn. “When Congress reacted to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, by passing the “Patriot Act” just weeks later, many Representatives agreed to support it only because the most drastic expansions of government power were made temporary. Those provisions will not expire until 2005, but the Bush administration seeks not only to make them permanent (without evaluating their effectiveness or consequences) but to further expand police power” (Milchen). The Patriot Act, which gives the government the ability to use invasive tactics more than ever, is clearly treating our collective freedom badly. But, most Americans see the legislation as being acceptable because our safety has been prioritized. Freedom and safety are both important. But how important is each? How do we know which is more important?
Is freedom actually safe? Is safety free? Repeated questions typically do not get answered. Norman Buursma, of The Holland Sentinel, breaks it down rather eloquently. “We really can’t keep looking over our shoulders; we need to accept that fact that to be free is to be in danger all the time. To be free is to trust in the goodness of humanity, and hope that when we give that freedom to someone they’ll respect it. To be free is to accept the risks that come with that freedom. You cannot protect freedom by limiting it; you can’t spread it through the world by taking it away at home” (Buursma). A so-called free country, such as , seemingly would not want its people to have thoughts like those of Buursma. , as a society, functions better when the majority of people look at each individual encroachment of freedom as a mechanism to ensure public safety, which is for the common good. Does it make much sense for an entire nation to be panicking about their freedom if they feel unsafe? Freedom takes the back seat to safety in . During peaceful times, freedom cannot be compromised. But in a time of war, the importance of freedom becomes secondary in comparison to the feeling of safety for the country. This gives the government the proverbial “green light” to pass legislation that not only would be unacceptable during peace time, but simply atrocious when you think about how much individual freedom has been compromised.
Safety or freedom? Freedom or safety? No matter how the question is phrased, the same pragmatic, convoluted response should be given. Freedom and safety are relative to each other, usually tipping back and forth like a seesaw. The balance between each virtue is rather delicate, but always negotiable, depending on the influence of events at home or even internationally. Freedom is the benchmark of the American value system. As long as Americans continue to place the proper importance on freedom, it will remain. Safety is equally important, but often manipulated. Most Americans seem to be rather gullible when it comes to the safety of the country and will usually agree with legislation that will “make us safer”. The key to ranking freedom and safety by importance ultimately is up to each and every individual, because we have already proven that it is nearly impossible to come to a conclusion about an issue that is so idealistic.
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