For over 150 years, Americans have taken a day at the end of May to pause and reflect upon the great sacrifices that have been made for the cause of liberty. Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, is a nerve that runs through our national body that aches to remind us of the tremendous price of freedom.
Over 1.1 million Americans have given their lives for the liberties protected by our Constitution and the national aspiration enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. It is a heavy price and a heavy burden that those of us who live under those principles have a responsibility to respect, honor, and defend.
While not without blemish, for no human endeavor is without marring from the weaknesses of the human condition, our nation has spent over 240 years spilling our blood for an idea — not for land, not for treasure, not for dominion – but for the idea that all people have an natural right to be free. Free in their person. Free in their thoughts. Free in their faith. Free in their property. Free.
That right to freedom is part of the spark put in us by God and is the natural right of every human. It is not subject to abridgment or restriction except by consent through a freely elected government. We institute government for the purpose of preserving our liberty. Our government protects our liberty through a well-defined system of laws that were consented to after an adversarial lawmaking process that is intentionally designed with checks and balances to ensure that broad consensus is achieved. Our rule of law is what protects our liberties from the arbitrary use of the police power of government. It is what protects us from tyranny.
Such a rudimentary summary of the concepts of liberty and self-governance should be known by any American with a high school education. They are the tenets of a free society, which over a million Americans have given their lives to preserve.
This is why it is so astonishing that we have so easily surrendered our liberties, suspended the rule of law, and abandoned self-governance over a virus.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he did not end the statement with “except if there’s a nasty virus.”
In the Wisconsin Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, it reads, “All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” That sentence does not end, “but those rights are void if the governor says so.”
Within days, our government stripped us of our most basic rights to freely assemble, practice our religion, use our property, operate a business, move freely, and even visit our own families. In Wisconsin, this was done on the sole authority and discretion of a single man. In other states, the same thing was done by the pen stroke of a single man or woman. And if a person dared to violate the order by simply having guests to their home or playing outside, the full police power of the state was brought to bear to force compliance. Such an arbitrary and cavalier use of police power is the stuff of totalitarian regimes. It does not belong in America.
When we have finally wrested our rights back from the tyrants, we must reform our statutes to ensure that such power may never be levied again under the color of law. Our nation has faced pandemics before and will face them again, but we must never let a health crisis be used an excuse for the wholesale abandonment of the very principles of liberty upon which our nation was founded.
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