Freedom and liberty. The words invoke several meanings and emotions to different people. They are some of the first values we come to learn and respect at a young age in the United States — their concepts taught as intrinsic to our way of life, though they’re not exclusive to this country.
However, there is an unspoken condition that comes with the concepts of freedom and liberty: accountability. For every action that we take there is a consequence, be it good or bad.
Freedom of speech is the most used and misunderstood of the liberties we enjoy. With it we are free to share our thoughts, opinions and beliefs among each other, although many mistake this as a pass to say anything they want without consequence. A classic argument for this concept is that one cannot, or rather should not, yell, “Fire!” and cause a panic when there is none. A person who does so would face trouble and cause negative consequences to himself and others.
One notorious example would be Westboro Baptist Church, which has grown infamous over the years with their protests of the funerals of soldiers and gay people. They act within the law but are also rather despised by the general population. Their actions and beliefs may be considered reprehensible by some people but their freedom to protest to do so is intrinsic to everyone else.
The right to protest is an important cornerstone in the foundation of a free society, although recent events in our nation have left its future in a dubious position.
Just months after several major protests on various issues swept across the nations, several Republican leaders have proposed bills that would criminalize certain protests. For example, in Colorado, Republican state senator, Jerry Sonnenberg, has introduced a bill that would greatly increase penalties for environmental protesters. Under the proposed law, obstructing or tampering with oil and gas equipment would be reclassified from a misdemeanor to a “class 6” felony, a category of crime that reportedly can be punished by up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000.
While the creation of these bills is touted as safety concerns, the language of the bills are vague and troublesome, raising questions as to whether our government leaders are more focused on protecting the sanctity of our liberties or corporate interests.
Despite the unclear nature of these bills, most of the responsibility lies on the citizens of this country. This also includes the issues that exist directly as a result of our collective apathy toward our local governments. If we truly hold these freedoms dear, then we must do more than dismiss any attempt to unravel them. We must constantly hold ourselves and our leaders accountable in order to show our true appreciation for our liberties.