The Bills of Rights, the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, are the very essence of individual liberty. Each is vital, one no more important than the other. The Bill of Rights protects the fundamental liberties of the people against the overreach of the federal government. The Bill of Rights does not restrict the people, but places constraints on the federal government. The greater danger to our liberty is not always the brute force of the federal government, but the willing capitulation of the individual.
The Bill of Rights is the bridge between the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, unifying these documents. The Declaration of Independence provides the principles of a proper, consensual federal government. The Constitution provides the boundaries for a government that is “instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” principles in the Declaration. The Declaration of Independence put pen to truth when it declared that we “are endowed by” our “creator with certain unalienable Rights,” the Bill of Rights affirms these truths. However, what if government is not the tyrant, the oppressive force? What if in fact liberty is vacated by the governed? Worse still, what if the surrender was out of fear, choosing security over freedom?
New Hampshire resident Jerry DeLemus recently announced he would be sponsoring a Draw Mohammed contest, similar to the free speech event in Garland, Texas, that was attacked by two Islamic jihadists, who were fatally shot by police. The terrorists wore body armor and were well armed. One had declared loyalty to ISIS. Both events have been fairly described as controversial, however many in the media and the general public blamed the organizers for the attack. To agree or disagree with the event is a reasonable debate, but that debate must end when laying blame for the act of violence. In 1989, when an unknown Chinese man stood in front of a military tank, who was on the side of liberty, the tank or the man? By merely announcing the event, DeLemus has made his point. There are those who would kill us for exercising our rights, and there are those who would side with the murderers.
Just as with the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the free expression of thought may be irritating and offensive to some, but those factors are irrelevant as it pertains to one’s individual freedom of expression. Violence, or the threat of it, is meant to not only intimidate an individual, but society as a whole. A free and open society cannot survive if dissent is not only suppressed, but silenced out of fear for one’s life. In a civilized society, the violent reaction to free speech cannot be tolerated, but neither can surrender to a tyrannical force. It is completely appropriate to disagree with DeLemus, and I have no doubt he would defend your right to express that opposition. We as individuals have every right to surrender our individual liberty should we choose. However, to cower in fear and insist someone surrender their “unalienable Rights,” especially if we disagree, is to surrender to a force that will not stop at the laying down of just one of our liberties.
How did we find ourselves at this point of debating the conscious surrender of a cherished right? Why do Muslims regard the drawing of the image of Mohammed as blasphemous? The Koran does not specifically forbid physical depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. The Koran does contain a reference to the worship of idols being a “manifest error,” but is not specifically referring to pictures of Mohammed. Some experts tell us the passage refers to ancient oral traditions, known as Hadith, which quote Allah as saying it is “unjust” to “try to create the likeness of My creation.”
In another Hadith, it states “all the painters who make pictures would be in the fire of Hell.” Islamic scholars are divided over whether it is permissible to depict the Prophet. Once again, none of this is relevant. Every day we witness people using “the Lord’s name in vain” and people placing the crucifix in a jar of urine and calling it art, yet Christians are not threatening jihad or committing acts of violence in retaliation. As much as I disagree with and dislike those who burn the American flag, I stand by their right, and would defend their freedom of speech. Yet when it comes to the simple drawing of the Prophet Mohammad, which may or may not be blasphemy, we become cowards, surrendering to the blunt force of subjugation.
President Franklin Roosevelt famously said “all we have to fear is fear itself.” To surrender to that fear, to capitulate to the forces of oppression, is to relinquish our “unalienable Rights.” To abandon those rights will be the death of liberty, not just in America, but across the globe.