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Time for a Commission on the Status of Freedom

By Henry Lamb
web posted March 24, 2008

In the turbulent 1960s, a civil rights movement arose that resulted in the creation of a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  Soon, there were state commissions on civil rights around the country.  Then came the U.S. Commission on the Status of Women.  Soon, there followed state Commissions on the Status of Women.  Perhaps it is time for a Commission on the Status of Freedom.

America grew into a powerful, prosperous nation because its Constitution guaranteed to every citizen the freedom endowed by the Creator.   While it took a century to extend those freedoms to black Americans, and to women, the principle of individual freedom for all citizens is the foundation of our Declaration of Independence and of our nation.

This fundamental principle of individual freedom has lost its luster in recent years.  There is no longer a bright line between governmental authority and the consent of the people.  Consequently, individual freedom is diminishing while governmental authority is expanding.  The work of previous "Commissions on …" have identified the policies that burdened the blacks and women, and proposed remedies to expand their freedom and opportunities.  A  U.S. Commission on the Status of Freedom should examine federal policies that have eroded individual freedom and recommend ways to restore those freedoms.  Commissions at the state level should examine state policies and find ways to further restore freedoms that have been usurped by state and local governments.

A good point of beginning would be reaffirmation of the words in the Fifth Amendment which say that private property shall not be taken for "…public use without just compensation."

The Supreme Court has expanded the meaning of the term "public use" to include "public benefit."  There is no justification for this expansion of government authority.  Individual freedom has been seriously diminished as the result of this usurpation.  State and local governments have seized upon this new authority, and now routinely take private property from one citizen to sell to another citizen for a profit – using the vague excuse that the "public benefit" is higher tax revenue.  This is wrong.  This expanded government power diminishes individual freedom, and takes private property for reasons not sanctioned by our Constitution.

With the rise of the environmental movement in the 1970s, governments at both the federal and state level enacted a series of laws that encroached further into an individual's freedom to use his property as he may choose.   Land that may be moist for as much as seven consecutive days during the growing-season was claimed by the government to be "wetlands" under the jurisdiction of the government.  Individuals went to jail, and were fined, for the "crime" of moving dirt from one place to another on their own property.  This is wrong!  This expanded government power cannot be excused or justified by the false claim that it is a "public benefit."

Thousands of jobs were lost in the northwest when government expanded its authority even further, to prohibit logging in areas inhabited by spotted owls.  Families, and even towns, were devastated because the government exercised power not granted by the Constitution, but justified by the claim of "public benefit".  A Commission on the Status of Freedom should examine both the basis, and the process by which this decision was made, and recommend remedies that will restore freedom lost due to this expanded governmental authority.

In communities across the nation, individuals are discovering that their unalienable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has been subjugated to the county's comprehensive plan.  These plans are mandated by a state law, adopted in order to win the favor and funding from federal agencies that have decided individuals should live in "sustainable communities," designed by professionals.  This is wrong!  People should be free to live where they choose.  Any limitation of this right should be imposed only by elected officials who are directly accountable to the people whose freedom is restricted.

Most important, a Commission on the Status of Freedom should examine the policy decision process.  Increasingly, public policy is being made and implemented administratively, by-passing elected representatives of the people.  Arrangements such as the Security and Prosperity Partnership, at the federal level, and the Arizona Mexico Commission, at the state level,  use non-elected bureaucrats to "harmonize" and "integrate" rules and regulations – without review or approval by elected representatives of the people.  The people who are subjected to these rules and regulations have no voice in the rules that govern them. This is wrong!

In truth, the U.S, Congress and every state legislature should be our Commissions on the Status of Freedom.  They are not - and this is wrong!  Far too many of our elected officials have lost sight of the "unalienable rights" endowed by the Creator and guaranteed by the Constitution. The seductive lure of power, and the misguided notion that government knows best have brought down many nations. 

A Commission on the Status of Freedom might well trigger a new public exploration of the values that moved our founders to declare and enshrine the principles of freedom that are now so regularly ignored. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.





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