Choice Neglect: Personal Responsibility Becomes Governmental Responsibility
On January 11th, a federal judge in Rhode Island ruled on the side of Jessica Ahlquist, a 16-year-old who sought to remove a prayer banner from her school’s auditorium. Ahlquist argued that the “School Prayer” sign, which started with the words “Our Heavenly Father” and concluded with “Amen” violated her First Amendment rights. According to the 16-year-old, the removal of the banner represents “what true American values are.” However, in an attempt to ensure freedom “from” religion and religious influence, Ahlquist and her liberal supporters actually rejected her own possession of freedom at the same time.
Perhaps this is best explained in the words of John Adams, who once said, “Liberty, according to my metaphysics is a self-determining power in an intellectual agent. It implies thought and choice and power.” Having a choice implies that freedom is present; therefore, a denial that choice exists is a symbolic rejection of freedom. Ahlquist had the choice to ignore the banner and its presence did not infringe upon her freedom in any way. Neither did it have a bearing on her own choice of religion (or in this case, lack thereof). I doubt she bent down and started “Tebowing” the first time her eyes fell upon the words “Our Heavenly Father.”
In this nation, we are granted the ability to freely choose our own form of worship, even in our schools. The First Amendment bans a state religion and theocracy. It does not imply that Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religious displays are unacceptable in public schools. However, many liberals demonstrate complete ignorance of this historical fact. In this case, Ahlquist’s supporters backed their case with a common liberal argument — one that discounts the presence of choice all together.
How does one make First Amendment suppression palatable to a liberty-loving nation? Simple: just change the premise of the argument. This type of argument rests on the unstated premise that choice is nonexistent. Jessica Ahlquist didn’t have a “choice” but to be “oppressed” by the prayer banner. Her life was not degraded in any way because of the banner’s presence. She had the choice to ignore it all together. However, when this choice is rejected, the argument then shifts power from the individual to a higher power that will make the neglected choice. Power and choice go hand in hand. As Adams discussed, having a choice implies a degree of individual power is present. Having a choice, and therefore, freedom, is the core of personal responsibility, and as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” The presence of choice requires that individuals also retain the responsibility to exercise that choice. However, a claim that no individual choice exists symbolically implies that personal responsibility is nonexistent as well.
Yet, responsibility is still a necessity. When responsibility does not rest with the individual, it is shifted up the hierarchy, often to the government; personal responsibility becomes governmental responsibility. Since individuals do not have a choice and freedom, they don’t have responsibility either. When responsibility goes unclaimed (and by extension, power), the government is often more than happy to step in and take it. After all, someone has to “protect” our freedoms, right?
Despite its claim that it is helping Americans retain liberty, when the government operates by this argument, it often infringes upon individual freedom. In this case, it’s freedom of (religious) expression. Yes, it’s a circular argument. The government steps in because “no choice exists” in order to “protect” individual freedoms. Then, this “protection” results in a liberty infringement. I never said it was logical. So please, America, hold your power of choice and responsibility to choose close to your hearts. Our choices make us who we are as individuals. Perhaps this is summed up best with a quote from another well-loved movie, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” We are a people of freedom and liberty. In the United States, power is supposed to rest in the hands of the people. We just need to choose to claim it and protect our individual freedoms.