The Freedom to Choose

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

This is the opening line of a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1776.

George Washington had it read aloud to his troops on the eve of the battle of Trenton. At the time, his army was on the verge of defeat, and Washington wrote to a relative, “I think the game is pretty nearly up”.

But with inspiration from Paine, Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River by boat in the dead of winter and defeated the British in the Battle of Trenton. This proved to be a historic turning point in the Revolutionary War.

We are again at a potentially historic turning point, and Thomas Paine’s words apply as much today as they did in 1776. These are the times that try men’s souls.

We’re losing our rights. Our right to be free from coercion and free to choose as long as we’re not harming anyone – your right to decide what you think is best for you and your family instead of having the big, all-knowing government decide for you.

The people responsible for this have been hard at work for years to undermine your freedom to choose. They think they’ve won! They think things have gone so far we can’t turn back. After all, over half our population pays no income tax and has every incentive to vote themselves the wealth of the other half.

But I’ve got a message for our opponents. We haven’t pushed off from shore yet to begin our crossing of the Potomac River to take on big government. In fact, we haven’t even finished loading the boat!!

Now . . . as we prepare, we have to keep in mind what really unites us. It’s the core founding principle stated in the Declaration of Independence: “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.”

Most of our current debates over the size and role of government are really about whether this principle still applies. And when we fight for this principle, we are fighting for fundamental human rights and the dignity of all men and women.

So, what do these words from the Declaration of Independence really mean?

• First, that we have rights inherent in our nature as human beings that can’t be taken away.
• Second, that we all have the same inherent rights regardless of our station in life.
• And third, that our rights include the right to liberty.

Our founding fathers also called these ideas self-evident truths, meaning they are undeniable. Why? Because they derive from the idea that we own ourselves.

Now . . . think about it for a minute. If you don’t own yourself, who does?

• Does a king or master race own you?
• Does the government own you?
• Does everyone own everyone else?

That’s right, we own ourselves. And because we own ourselves, we have the right to be left alone as long as we honor the equal right of others to be left alone. In other words, we have the right to be free from coercion and to be free to choose as long as we don’t harm others. This is the essence of liberty.

The problem is that many people want the government to make more decisions for us, and they are willing to abandon the self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence to achieve that.

Some explicitly attack the idea that we have inherent rights that can’t be taken away. For example, Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s top regulatory advisor, wrote a book in which he argues that all rights are a grant from the State. In other words, the government loans us rights, and it can take them away at any time.

These are the times that try our souls.

Others acknowledge we have inherent rights, but they have abandoned the idea that we are all equal and have the same inherent rights.

This has happened with unprecedented efforts to redistribute wealth in this country. When you are forced to give your earnings to another person, whether through taxes or government mandates, after a certain point, you are in effect the servant of the other person.

It has also happened with free speech, where some are trying to muzzle opinions they don’t like. They’ve done this with campus speech codes and recent efforts to reinstate the so-called “fairness doctrine” designed to squelch conservative talk radio. They’ve also done it by claiming corporations don’t have free speech rights under the First Amendment.