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Religious Freedom vs Economic Freedom: Kennedy Townsend’s False Alternative

Ms. Kennedy Townsend is very confused about Ayn Rand.

Sadly, because like many of Rand’s critics, her views on Ayn Rand are based on third-rate biographies as opposed to actually reading Ayn Rand’s views first hand. Take for example Kennedy Townsend’s  straw man attack on Ayn Rand’s view of government.

Writes Townsend in The Atlantic:

America was a beacon of freedom from its earliest days. But the freedom to earn one’s living is not the same as the freedom to emasculate government. It’s a mistake to enshrine individual liberty without acknowledging the role that a good government plays in preserving and promoting it. Look at places like Haiti, Somalia, and the Congo to see what happens when governments aren’t around much.

When government is marginalized, it’s not just individual freedom that suffers; the economy suffers too. A vibrant capitalism requires a legal system: contracts must be honored, fraud punished. Markets have to work, and for that we need a strong infrastructure of roads, rail, energy, and water and sewage systems.

Ayn Rand was no anarchist as pure libertarians are.

Rather than blindly accepting Kennedy Townsend’s view that Ayn Rand was against a legal system that honors contracts, lets see what Rand actually wrote on this issue in The Virtue of Selfishness:

The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law. ["The Nature of Government"]

Ayn Rand was for good government. In Rand’s view the essence of good government was judged by one principle: the protection of individual rights, which means in practice the banning of the initiation of physical force from all human relationships. Rand would agree with a government to enforce contracts, however, there is no reason for government being required to build roads, railroads, build power plants or sewage systems. Practically, because private industry can do these things more efficiently and at a better bang for the buck, i.e., before they were nationalized, America’s railroads were actually built by private industry. Morally, because such endeavors by government can only be funded by robbing the wealth of those forced to finance such projects against their will.

Even worse is Ms. Townsend’s misunderstanding of the relationship of religion and the concept freedom, the latter of which she views as a competing set of contradictory freedoms as opposed to an inseparable whole:

 I’ve always understood that one’s loyalty to God should take precedence over one’s patriotic duty. [As did the 9/11 terrorists! -- D&C] Churches are exempt from taxation, and conscientious objectors aren’t required to serve in war. Our high regard for the First Amendment shows the preeminence of faith in the American consciousness.

But to place economics on the same level as religious freedom seemed to me almost blasphemous. Are we really to believe that the freedom to make money should stand on the same level of religious liberty?

Yes, because freedom is an inseparable whole.

The right to religious freedom is not merely the freedom for the individual to practice religion as he chooses (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), but is the freedom from religion being imposed on the individual whether by private criminals or public bureaucrats, i.e., the freedom to not practice any religious doctrine.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Quoting Jefferson in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814:

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

Religious freedom is the application of the right to free speech and property applied to the religious sphere. You are free to say what you wish on these matters — even that God does not exist — and no one can physically force you to think or act differently. Remarks Jefferson’s on this point in his Notes on Virginia, 1782:

But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Religious freedom — the right to free speech and action so long as one does not violate the rights of others — and economic freedom — the right to produce values necessary to support ones own life so long as one does not violate the rights of others — are equals, because the right to life is an inseparable, non-contradictory whole.

Religious freedom (the freedom from the state forcing some religious doctrine upon you) is an instance of the principle of freedom applied to the religious sphere. It is hierarchically a derivative of the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is no compromise or antagonism between religious and economic freedom when the two are properly grasped and defined.

Or in Ayn Rand’s words:

It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a “compromise” between two rights—but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not derived from an edict of society—but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society—but is implicit in the definition of your own right.

Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute. [“Textbook of Americanism,”The Ayn Rand Column, 85]

As for charity and the “special responsibility” of the wealthy here is what Ayn Rand had to say:

The small minority of adults who are unable rather than unwilling to work, have to rely on voluntary charity; misfortune is not a claim to slave labor; there is no such thing as the right to consume, control, and destroy those without whom one would be unable to survive. [CUI]

Quoting Ayn Rand in her interview in Playboy, March 1964:

My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Rand did not see charity — the benevolent act of giving away one’s wealth to aid someone in need — as a badge of moral honor; she did award such a badge for the ability to produce that wealth. In Rand’s view your only political responsibility in regards to others is not to violate their rights by initiating force against them:

The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. No man—or group or society or government—has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. The ethical principle involved is simple and clear-cut: it is the difference between murder and self-defense. A holdup man seeks to gain a value, wealth, by killing his victim; the victim does not grow richer by killing a holdup man. The principle is: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force. [“The Objectivist Ethics,”The Virtue of Selfishness, 32 ]

And again quoting Rand in “The Nature of Government,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 108:

Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment.

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

The difference between Ayn Rand and Townsend’s ilk is that Ayn Rand leaves people free to be good as dictated by their own reason and free choice; Kennedy Townsend wishes to use the power of the government to force her altruistic conception of the good on others (i.e., robbing the “rich” to help those who sleep under bridges, i.e., Marxian “fair” taxation, etc.).

Kennedy Townsend wishes to unleash the criminal power of government to initiate force against those who violated the rights of no one — illegitimate and immoral means — to achieve her ends. In Rand’s view, rights are not things to be violated by regulation, but are to be protected by right. Quoting Ayn Rand:

Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state—and nothing else.

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The Aftermath of the ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Movie: Part One

‘Atlas Shrugged’ Producer Promises Two Sequels Despite Terrible Reviews, Poor Box Office – The Hollywood Reporter

The man who says he spent $10 million of his own money to bring Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 to the big screen vowed Wednesday to go through with his plans to make the next two installments, even though critics hate the movie and business at movie theaters has fallen off a cliff. [...]

[John Aglialoro] defended his film Wednesday by accusing professional film reviewers of political bias. How else, he asks, to explain their distaste for a film that is liked by the audience? At Rottentomatoes.com, 7,400 people gave it an average 85% score. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, though, gave the movie zero stars, and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it one. A dozen others were equally dismissive.

“It was a nihilistic craze,” Aglialoro said. “Not in the history of Hollywood has 16 reviewers said the same low things about a movie. “They’re lemmings,” he said. “What’s their fear of Ayn Rand? They hate this woman. They hate individualism.

Or, perhaps they liked Ayn Rand’s work of art and actually did hate Aglialoro’s movie (who did not use the script written by Rand). Let’s hope he doesn’t turn Part III into an opera.

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Koran Burners Derek Fenton and Terry Jones: Free Speech and the First Amendment Bow Down to the Advocates of the Religion of Violence and Censorship

Thanks to the ACLU Derek Fenton, Koran-burning transit worker fired from his job after Ground Zero protest, re-hired reports the NY Daily News [22 April 2011]:

A Koran-burning New Jersey Transit worker, fired for his protest near Ground Zero last Sept. 11, is getting his job back – along with an extra $25,000 for his troubles. Derek Fenton, 40, will also collect back pay since his Sept. 13, 2010, dismissal for torching pages of the Muslim holy book on the site of a proposed lower Manhattan Islamic center. The deal additionally pays Fenton $25,000 for pain and suffering and restores his pension credits.

[...] “Our government cannot pick and choose whose free speech rights are protected, based on whether or not they approve of the context of our statements or actions,” Fenton said. “This is the very essence of the First Amendment.”

In related news Florida preacher Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp were jailed for planning a peaceful protest (“he hadn’t even attempted to go to the mosque yet”) outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan. Apparently, according to the judge and jury’s Alice in Wonderland “reasoning”, Jone’s attempt to speak against Islam peacefully would cause some Muslims act violently as they are unable to physically control themselves. (Does not anyone find this demeaning to Muslims who are equated as being rabid dogs who cannot control themselves when they hear the barking of the Florida Priest?) Therefore, as the pro-Islam supporters cannot control themselves Terry Jones should face going to jail!!!!

Apparently Jone’s opponents are allowed to physically surround him and scream in his ear and shout in his face and “chase him away” as show in the video clip:

Reports the Detroit Free Press:

A judge late Friday sent two Florida pastors to jail for refusing to post a $1 bond and barred them from visiting a Dearborn mosque or its adjacent property for three years unless the mosque’s leadership says otherwise. After a short time in jail they left on $1 bond each. The stunning developments came after a Dearborn jury sided with prosecutors, ruling that Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp would breach the peace if they rallied at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. Critics slammed the decision to jail them, the court proceedings, and Wayne County prosecutors, saying they violated the men’s Constitutional rights.Prosecutors asked Judge Mark Somers for $45,000 bond. Somers then set bond at $1 each for the two pastors. They refused to pay. And Somers ordered them remanded to jail.

Chaos broke out outside court as opposing factions yelled at each other. Jones and Sapp were led out of court by Dearborn police. That left Jones’ supporters stunned, given that he hadn’t even attempted to go to the mosque yet.

[...]

“This is a true miscarriage of justice,” Elmir said. “Rev. Jones has committed no crime. He should never have been facing jailed time for his protected speech.” ["Terry Jones goes free on $1 bond after jailing; judge bars him from mosque for 3 years"]

Comments Eugene Volokh (his full analysis is well worth reading):

I think requiring anything other than a modest, content-neutral permit fee would be unconstitutional, as the Court held in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992). Forsyth County struck down an ordinance that required organizations to pay a security fee (capped at $1000) for “the cost of necessary and reasonable protection [for assemblies] … [that] exceeds the usual and normal costs of law enforcement ….” The Court found the security fee
unconstitutional because, among other reasons, the regulation included no objective standards directing how to establish the level of the fee. Instead, the amount of the security fee was left to the “whim of the administrator.” And even beyond the unconstrained discretion as to the amount, the Court held that a demonstration permit fee can’t be based on the likely risk that audience members will react violently:

The Forsyth County ordinance contains more than the possibility of censorship through uncontrolled discretion. As construed by the county, the ordinance often requires that the fee be based on the content of the
speech.

The county envisions that the administrator, in appropriate instances, will assess a fee to cover “the cost of necessary and reasonable protection of persons participating in or observing said … activit[y].” In order to assess accurately the cost of security for parade participants, the administrator “‘must necessarily examine the content of the message that is conveyed,’” estimate the response of others to that content, and judge the number of police necessary to meet that response. The fee assessed will depend on the administrator’s measure of the amount of hostility likely to be created by the speech based on its content. Those wishing to express views unpopular with bottle throwers, for example, may have to pay more for their permit….

The costs to which petitioner refers are those associated with the public’s reaction to the speech. Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.

A sound analysis, it seems to me, and one that would preclude jury-set fees for speakers who “might offend a hostile mob” a well as fees set by government officials. To its credit, the Michigan ACLU has publicly sided with Jones on the constitutional question.

Comments Amy Peikoff:

In addition, this is distinctly unlike restrictions on obscenity or profanity. The ideology of Islam, if adopted and practiced consistently, does appear, from everything I know about it (I plan to learn more, soon, starting with my Koran reading group), to be a threat to our way of life. Freedom to protest against it is as important as freedom to protest against any politician, political party, or political ideology. This is not an issue of defending one’s right to produce or consume tasteless pornography, simply as a matter of principle, so that we can preserve our right to political speech. In my mind, this is an unjustified restraint on political speech itself.

For more on this issue see Amy Peikoff’s post “When is Enough Enough?

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