Freedom & responsibility

July 04, 2001 12:00 am

Freedom and responsibility are the twin pillars of liberty.

Consider:

o In the United States of America, you are guaranteed the freedom of speech, without fear of government persecution. But you are responsible not to abuse that right by crying Fire! in a crowded theater, for example, when no threat exists.

o Two and a quarter centuries of struggle have extended the franchise to every man, woman and adult child over the age of 18. You have the right the freedom to vote for the candidate of your choice. You also have the duty the responsibility to cast your ballot and not abdicate the reins of government.

o Our founding fathers, 225 years ago today in the Declaration of Independance, set forth that certain rights are inalienable and put the yearning of a people to be free on the world stage by defying a king. But implicit in their complaints about the kings governance and the Constitution they drafted 11 years later were indicators that a government has certain responsibilities.

And they placed those responsibilities squarely on the shoulders of this government of and by and for the people.

On this Independence Day, we would like to offer a peculiar but telling example of the sometimes strained interplay of freedom and responsibility.

Were not sure what you would call the Rainbow Family of Living Light, so well stick to the facts: The Family are thousands of people camping in close proximity to one another on public lands managed by the federal government in Idaho.

This year, however, the Family have elected they claim to be an anarchist clan, so decisions presumably emerge spontaneously, and no one is responsible for them to camp near spawning habitat for endangered salmon.

If the Family had applied for a special use permit

required of any group of 15 or more to assemble on this piece of ground, their permit would have surely been rejected.

And, we suspect, the Family would have elected not to camp there. While not an overtly environmental group, they likely are sympathetic to basic environmental concerns.

In the past, there has been considerable friction between land managers and the Family. Family members have always defended their presence on public lands, saying they are not taking part in an organized event and are merely individuals who have chosen to camp on their public lands and freely associate with others camped nearby.

That is a seductive line of reasoning, and it seems to be supported by their First Ammendment right to freely assemble.

After all, wouldnt a special use permit issued by the government constitute an infringement on that right?

Yes but only if the government refused to issue the permit based on the subject matter the speech of the assembly.

That would be a limitation on freedom.

But asking a group, whether it has a figurehead or not, to seek a permit to use public land is only appropriate. It is this government of the people asking some of the people where they intend to gather.

Whether in the forest or a busy city center, the assembly could unwittingly and unfairly impact other peoples lives or property, and those freely assembled need to take responsibility for their actions.

In the case at hand, we hope land managers and Family members can spread enough information fast enough to make each individual gathered there responsible for his or her actions. It certainly would have been easier if a Ma or Pa Family took responsibility for the event.

Of course, then the individuals taking part might not feel the freedom they seek or wouldnt accept the responsibility we fellow citizens expect of them.

It is a modern conundrum with historic roots.

Happy birthday, liberty.