Here’s a little story:
In between classes at a grade school, a teacher’s cell phone went missing, presumably taken by a student in the prior class. When the teacher asked the class to return it, no one admitted to doing the deed, nor did anyone return the phone. In order to persuade the kids into telling on the offender, they were given class detention. The kids who did not do anything wrong should not be punished, especially those who had no knowledge of the incident. They were punished because it was assumed that the whole class knew who took the phone but weren’t telling.
Should the whole class be punished for what one kid, or a few kids, did wrong?
This post will make one major point- It is immoral to revoke or infringe upon the rights of the innocent because of the immoral actions of others.
The Source and Nature of Autonomy
People have liberty because they have equal dignity. Each person has the same inherent value as a human being, so no one has the right to rule over another. People own their body, and therefore, have the right to decide what to do with their body as long as their choices do not interfere with other’s liberty.
A society must decide what rights it values, and America has written theirs out expressly in the Constitution. They are derived from Natural Law, and focus on the inherent dignity of each person, their right to accumulate property, protect their life, and defend their liberty.
These rights basically tell Americans, “Here is the furthest extent your liberty can stretch without infringing upon others’ liberty.” To restrict one group or person’s liberty without justification is to deny them their claim of equal dignity. The way America has decided to arbitrate this process it through a legislative body that writes laws to determine when people’s actions betray the liberty of others and through courts that hear cases to determine if the law has been broken.
The American justice system uses a presumption of innocence until the prosecution can prove guilt. The prosecution also has to prove this guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases. Guilt is determined when it is proven that a person acted in a manner prohibited by law. This person is then subject to a loss of certain liberties due to their abuse of their liberty.
However, the guilty party’s family is not punished for his mistake. They are associated with him, but not responsible for his actions. The same logic should apply to all associations. All Hollywood producers shouldn’t be punished because of Harvey Weinstein, but he should. The other customers in the store when someone shoplifts shouldn’t be punished, but the shoplifter should. All gun owners should not be punished for shootings, but the shooter should.
The instruments of wrongdoing and those who lawfully exercise their rights should not be held accountable for an individual’s wrongdoing. The individual should. It can serve as a reminder to those who exercise the right to be wary of potential dangers, but they should not lose their liberty.
If everyone’s liberty was restricted each time someone misused theirs, everyone in America would lose their freedom in a matter of minutes. Liberty is a right, but rights come with responsibilities. Liberty can be misused, and often is, but that does not mean people should lose faith in liberty. Rather, it is a reminder of how easily people can make the wrong choice, and should be discussed so everyone can learn from the person who misused their liberty.
To Sum it Up
People have every opportunity to use their liberty for good or bad. They should not have their liberty or their rights taken from them until it is proven that they are incapable of exercising their freedom. People can be redeemed, and if they repent and reform themselves, their liberty can be restored.
Americans should be wary of any attempt to restrict the freedom of a group because of an individual’s actions. Today, the discussion may be guns control. Tomorrow, it might be political dissent. Next week, it could be a right to a jury.
A democracy places tremendous power in the people, but it also burdens them with the responsibility to understand topics of debate and to approach them with a level head. Democratic solutions are subject to the emotional whim of the majority, initiated by tragedy and animated by fear and anger. The passions of partisanship blind those calling for regulation of what they see to be despicable to the potential infringement of their freedom by the same logic.
So America, take a breath before you act. Think about the situation and all the ramifications of any legislation. Ask yourself if you would mind giving up your freedom because of another person’s actions. Ask yourself how you would feel serving detention because one of your classmates stole the teacher’s phone.
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