While we watch the conflict in Ukraine unfold via our chosen media outlets, we occupy a front-row seat to millions of people literally losing their freedom.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what that must feel like. One day, you go about living your life as a free person—you go to work, to the market, to the park, whatever—and the next day, you’re ushering your family to the border to keep them safe, then taking up arms to prevent a dictator from wiping out your freedom or die in the process. It’s unfathomable to me.
That’s what losing your freedom looks like. But for the past couple of years in the US, we’ve heard people screaming about their freedoms being taken away, mainly centered around the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically regarding the use of masks.
Using the exact same terminology to describe a piece of cloth on your face and an invasion of your homeland by a foreign power is enraging to me. The amount of privilege and lack of awareness it takes to do that with a straight face is astronomical.
In my own city and surrounding area, we’ve made the national news thanks to one of these “freedom fighter” cases. In early February, a man was forcibly removed from a local school board meeting for refusing to leave voluntarily after being asked to do so. He was asked to leave because he refused to wear a mask, despite multiple requests to put one on. Video of the incident went viral and he later appeared on several right-wing media outlets, including Newsmax and Hannity, accompanied by his lawyer (who I happen to know personally).
Unsurprisingly, the man’s lawyer was at the January 6th insurrection with his teenage son, hosts a right-wing podcast, has been arrested for trespassing after refusing to wear a mask at his kid’s baseball game, and has been signing on with any and all clients who are getting into legal trouble for this ridiculous self-righteous freedom-fighting cause.
And there are thousands who share this mentality—the feeling that a mask mandate is somehow an infringement on one’s freedom. But what freedom is removed when a mask is required? Assembly, religion, speech, expression, religion, press? Are any of these infringed upon? I don’t see it. Is there another freedom I’m not aware of, like freedom to have your face visible? I don’t think that was covered in any of my Constitutional Law classes.
What I’m getting at is, regardless of where you sit on the mask issue, the anti-mask mob has somehow morphed this into a conversation about freedom—a wholeheartedly inaccurate representation of the issue when you compare it to the situation in Ukraine, an actual crisis of freedom. At most, it’s a loss of convenience, but surely not freedom.
And it doesn’t stop there. Before the pandemic, and as long as I can remember, my fellow Americans have been demanding freedom—despite being one of the freest nations in the world. The problem is, many of the “freedoms” Americans reference end up infringing on the legally guaranteed rights of others. Freedom to express their religious beliefs however and wherever they want, freedom to arm themselves with advanced weaponry, freedom to speak their minds without consequence—these aren’t inherent American freedoms. They’re demands for personal privilege that aren’t guaranteed by any document, especially the Constitution.
We’ve heard for years the cries of Christians for “religious freedom,” when we know that to be a call to be able to push their religious laws and beliefs onto people of any or no religion, or to receive special treatment for subscribing to a belief system that’s intolerant of others who don’t share its views. We hear from gun advocates about their Second Amendment rights, twisting their right to bear arms into the right to possess any type of weapon they’d like, to buy and keep weapons with mass casualty potential, and to do it with little to no background check. And we so often witness Americans misinterpreting freedom of speech, claiming that the First Amendment allows them to say whatever they’d like without consequence from their employer, community, and especially social media. What they fail to realize is that because they haven’t been jailed for the awful things they’ve expressed, they’re enjoying a freedom they’ve taken for granted—one that may not exist in Ukraine much longer.
I urge those Americans who have ever complained that their freedoms were infringed upon to really examine that idea. Were you punished, fined, imprisoned, or otherwise removed from society for something protected by law? Did you lose the ability to vote or participate in public life? If not, then you likely have not lost your freedom. At worst, you’ve been inconvenienced, lost your privilege, or needed to adjust to a public crisis. You’re no less free than you were before the incident. Your city hasn’t been bombed, your government hasn’t collapsed, and you’re still alive.
Be thankful for that, and while you watch the Russian military overrun the streets of Ukraine, let the silver lining be your acquisition of perspective on this word you’ve misused far too often.