The concept of freedom is open to wide interpretation. There are limitations on freedom and where these limits are placed varies by individual. Everyone agrees in free speech but it’s not socially acceptable or legal to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded enclosure. Freedom of religion is a cherished right in America but the Mormon tradition of polygamy is neither acceptable nor legal. America is rightfully celebrated as the land of the free but many more countries than not have freedoms and some would argue the citizens of some enjoy more freedom than Americans. To me, freedom is an evolving idea, one that should be constantly examined and expanded. Beyond the freedom of speech which all can agree is essential to a free society, the freedom from need should be more of a consideration than it is. This nation is too wealthy for working people, or any people for that matter, to be in need of health care, shelter or food.

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It’s difficult to feel free when the bills are behind, your family is food insecure and basic medical needs are unaffordable. The most fundamental freedom in addition to the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom from need is the freedom from being frightened. This is why countries assemble armies and security cameras are everywhere. Freedom to a people who live in fear is just a meaningless word. Freedom requires several working elements to be realized.

The most important freedom is that of speech. It does not mean unrestricted speech. It means the government cannot censor criticisms against it. A functioning democracy, a free society, is not possible without it. This right, which the Founding Fathers thought important enough to list first in the Bill of Rights, protects from abuses of power by a potentially corrupt government. Free speech allows news outlets to report on and expose government misdeeds without fear of reprisal and to openly question policy decisions. It is an indispensable ingredient in the pursuit of truth. In other nations journalists can be jailed, or worse, for questioning the government. Free speech allows for differing opinions to be heard. A society that can express itself without fear of retaliation is a breeding ground for fresh ideas which moves that society forward and improves the way it is governed. Open, unfettered discourse also allows for individuals to develop more fully as thinking beings, a circumstance that could only be beneficial for personal growth. The Founders believed that an assurance, a right, of free speech would encourage a constant pool of ideas in which the most viable would eventually win out while the harmful ideas would not due to intelligent discourse. That was the intent anyway.

Being able to keep an eye on those who govern is vital for a society to remain free from tyranny but that is a distant and empty concept for those who do not have the essentials for living. Economic freedom affects people most directly and is an crucial element for a robust, healthy democracy. A truly free people should expect similar employment opportunities for all, abundant jobs for everyone that is able to work and which pay a living wage. New technologies are restricted to those who can afford it and who live in certain places. Too many people who live in poor rural areas do not have access to the internet or reliable cell phone service for example. Opportunities for them are fewer than those with access to technological advances therefore these people experience less freedom. They are hindered in learning and earning potential. An imbalance of civil liberties remains a hindrance to freedoms for many citizens. Discriminatory practices still occur in this country regarding employment and housing. As long as there is a disparity of income and civil rights, a disparity of freedom exists. Unlike all other civilized nations, health care is considered a commodity in America and not all can afford to visit a doctor or dentist. The Affordable Health Care Act helped somewhat but falls well short of ensuring all citizens have equal access to quality care. The central and enduring strength of the political and economic systems relies on the extent to which they apply to all equally. Free speech and a decent paycheck are meaningless to an unhealthy person who has little expectation of relief.

Economic freedom is an important element in the pursuit of happiness but a person could be financially comfortable and still not feel free if they don’t feel safe. American citizens are luckier than most regarding the threat of invasion from a formidable enemy. The last time another country invaded with any real consequence was about 200 years ago when Britain burned Washington D.C., bombarded McHenry and landed on Southern shores. The U.S. mainland was only attacked once, 14 years ago. Yet, Americans seem to live in fear more so than other cultures. Americans look for excuses to be afraid and have armed themselves in response. Maybe it’s the American society, one that began living in fear of Indian and slaves attacks. This culture of fear is fed by the media and political propagandists and does not promote the feeling of freedom we should be enjoying.

Freedom of speech is the guardian of a working democracy and is the most essential of liberties because without that we live under a tyrannical government and the other issues are irrelevant. Still, when people are barely surviving because that government will do nothing to raise the minimum wage they aren’t concerned about abstract ideas like free speech. People who are fearful, whether imagined or not, do not feel free. Imagined, irrational fears lead to destructive policies which results in fearful outcomes. Freedom to me is dependant on dealing in realties, to not let emotions and misinformation dictate reactions. Freedom means fervently protecting the freedom of speech especially when it conflicts with our own opinion and to fight for a living income which will free the minds of millions and strengthen the economy which in turn strengthens this freedom loving country.