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What "Freedom Isn't Free" Really Means

You have to allow others to do things you don't like.

by James Leroy Wilson
July 16, 2009

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What "Freedom Isn't Free" Really Means

An Iraq War veteran, denied a liquor license for the supper club he sank $200,000 into, was nearing bankruptcy and flew his American flag upside-down as a "sign of distress."

On the 4th of July, four policemen came and confiscated the flag. It was returned the next day, and was soon flying upside-down once again. But why was it temporarily stolen in the first place?

The victim of this government intrusion was Vito Congine, who as a Marine risked his neck "defending freedom" in Iraq in 2004. And for what? Saddam Hussein was already out of power by then. And, if one was honest about it, Saddam never did pose such a threat to America that he could deny Congine the right to serve liquor on his own property, which the village of Crivitz could indeed do.

Some townsfolk, however, thought flying the flag upside-down on Independence Day was a sign of "disrespect." Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula admits that flying the flag upside-down isn't illegal, but "It's illegal to cause a disruption."

Now that's something in common with Saddam's Iraq. Saddam wouldn't tolerate any sign of dissent or protest against his regime, just as Marinette County, Wisconsin doesn't tolerate anything that might be interpreted as dissent or protest against the country and its government - at least not on the 4th of July.

Yet, it wasn't Congine that "caused a disruption," and it wasn't the people of Crivitz, it was the police themselves that trespassed and stole Congine's private property.

But let's set that aside, and assume that some people would have been upset enough about seeing the upside-down flag on the Fourth to either steal the flag or act violently against Congine.

In a fantasy world where government exists to protect our rights, the police would have protected Congine at the first sign he was being threatened. If angry mobs were forming, the police in a "rights-protecting" government would have circled Congine's property and swung their clubs at anyone who dared trespass. In real life, however, it was the police who stole the flag.

This is particularly galling as the day celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which says among other things that all men have the right to liberty.

Marinette County forgot what everyone says on the 4th of July, that "the Flag stands for Freedom."

Some may object to my perspective, saying that it was "in bad taste" to fly the flag upside-down on the 4th of July. That maybe it could even be construed as "fightin' words" or incitement to violence. In such cases, it is supposedly the "instigators," not the people "provoked" into violence, who are guilty for the subsequent disorder.

I call b.s. on that. "Fightin' words," "incitement," indeed, any non-violent activity that supposedly "causes" others to act violently, are legal concepts wholly out of place in a free society.

With freedom comes responsibility. Namely, the responsibility to respect the right of the other even when the other is doing things that offend one's faith or sensibility. No one owns another person's thoughts or beliefs. No one is the judge of when another deserves a butt-kicking.

If you don't like that someone in the neighborhood has flown his flag upside-down on the 4th of July, or has done something you believe is even more disrespectful, what should you do?

You can denounce it. You can shun or boycott the person who offends you. You can, if you had genuine serenity about such things, turn your head, walk away, and leave the fellow alone. But if you react violently, or if you trespass, or if you steal someone else's property, you're the bad guy, not the person who offends you.

Flag-waving cheerleaders of America's wars often say that "freedom isn't free," as if an Afghani warlord or Vietnamese Communist ever posed a threat to the liberties of the American people. But the true definition of "freedom isn't free" is that, in exchange for one's freedom to do as one pleases, one must respect the freedom of others to do the same, even when others do offensive things. This applies especially to any non-violent activity they do on their own property.

Government "in theory" is supposed to protect our rights. On the 4th of July, 2009, government officials of Crivitz and of Marinette County, Wisconsin not only failed to protect Vito Congine's rights, they became the bad guys.


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