USA Freedom

In answering this essay, it is important to provide a short discussion regarding the two opposite faces of freedom or liberty which will the culprit of our essay. Discussions from John Stuart Mill up to Isaiah Berlin categorized liberty or freedom in two kinds, the positive and negative liberty, or in our case freedom for (negative) and freedom from (positive). The freedom for or negative liberty are the rights that limit the coercion of compulsory and impulsive actions from an outside actor ( i.e government or state). Sample of these freedoms are freedom of religion, freedom of speech etc. The positive freedom or liberty however, or in our case freedom from are the sets of freedom which aims to achieve certain ends ( i.e self mastery or self realization). This includes freedom from poverty or freedom from unemployment.

It is important to take note that in both practice and theory, the right wing of the political debate tend to adopt a more negative approach to liberty. On the other hand, the left wing tends to emphasized a more positive approach to freedom. This includes totalitarian ideologies such as Stalinism and Communism. With this respect, it is important to remember that the United States of America is a liberal democracy at its core, therefore it will be not difficult to follow that USA is attached to a negative approach to liberty.

To prove this we are going to examine two of the most leading categories of negative freedom.

Freedom of Information and Freedom of the Press
It has been regarded that the publics right for information and knowing is one of the core principles of the American society. Historically, it can be rooted to the appeal of the first citizens of America against the imposition of strict laws against the flow of ideas and information by their British rulers. As a result, in their establishment of their own government, they acknowledged the right of the public for a free flow of information. The first amendment of the United States constitution reflects this desire.

Congress shall make no law  abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press  That protection from control by the federal government meant that anyone -- rich or poor, and regardless of political or religious beliefs -- could generally publish whatever he or she wished.

These few lines served and secure the publication of information since the time of simple publications such as newspapers, pamphlets and book up to our modern ways of communication and publication such as the television, radio and the use of the internet. In the USA, laws rarely forbids or limits the media in its scope and function. In contrast, many cases  had shown that many law had been passed to protect the press freedom and its actors.  Some of the examples are The Privacy Act of 1974 which  regulates the collection and dissemination of personal information contained in the files of federal agencies and the other one is the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 which protected the newsroom from the searches of the police. The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 opened up the executive branch records for public use and for the scrutiny of the press. It is also important to note that courts have regarded the press as a watchdog for the government.

With this information in hand, it is not difficult to acknowledge the high degree of freedom enjoyed by the public in terms of information and the mass media.

Freedom of Religion
The United States of America is regarded as one of the most religious country in the world. According to a 2006 report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, some 87 percent of Americans surveyed described themselves as affiliated with some religion. Eighty-two percent reported Christian affiliation . Other religions accounted for 5 percent of the population, including Jews with 2 percent and Muslims with 1 percent. Agnostics, atheists, and those with no religious affiliation made up at least 11 percent of the population (D.W 2009).

Historically speaking, the United States has a mixed record in promoting the freedom of religion. Despite United States heritage of religious liberty like acting as a sanctuary for religious refugees who fled from countries that oppressed them, we cannot disregard different atrocities that were done by the American people. Who can forget the  public execution of Quakers in mid-17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony to the expulsion of Mormons from Missouri in 1838-39 to the discrimination many Muslim Americans felt following 911. However, today we can the acknowledgement of the strengthening the freedom of religion. However, the recent speech of US President Barack Obama in Cairo, Egypt had shown a move to the next level in the conception and implementation of the freedom of religion not only in the United States but also in the world. Nevertheless, we must also take note that historically speaking, the past leaders of the United States already established laws to promote freedom of religion. For example, in 1790, Washington pledged to the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, that the new republic would give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. Article 11 of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, which was signed under Washington and approved by the Senate after Adams became president in 1797, declared that the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. This provision is often cited as a clear, early statement that the U.S. government is religiously neutral.

Deviation from Negative Liberty
After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 and the passing of the USA PATRIOT in 2001 , it can be argued that the United States is shifting from a negative conception of liberty to a positive conception of freedom. According to Matthew Robinson in his paper entitled Freedom in an Era of Terror A Critical Analysis of the USA Patriot Act,  Legal experts have suggested that the USA PATRIOT Act erodes elements of several of the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution. This includes the First Amendment (freedom of speech and assembly), Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable search and seizure), Fifth Amendment (right to due process of law), Sixth Amendment (right to speedy, public, and fair trials, right to confront accusers, and right to a criminal defense), and Eighth Amendment (freedom from excessive and cruel  unusual punishment).

Some of the examples cited are the ability of government agencies to search peoples records such as financial, medical, educational and other personal records. Additionally, the wiretapping of cellphones, telephones and the tracking of emails and website visited are now permitted by the law. More over,  citizens can be detained against their will and refused access to lawyers, based on secret evidence.

It will be safe to say that the United States has a long history of a negative approach to liberty. However, recent events in the history such as the rise of terrorism had triggered a switch from a negative approach to liberty to a positive one. In my opinion, I believe that different circumstances requires different measures and actions. If a negative approach to liberty had managed to fit the historical context in the last 300 years, it does not follow that it will still be best approach in our times today. If the people in the government can justify and prove that a shift to our idea and approach is necessary for us to survive, I am more than willing to give way to the policies and laws inspired by a positive approach to liberty even if it can give us  a little same picture of some of the socialist states.


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