Laws curbing freedom have disastrous results

Curtis Shelburne

G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It’s no surprise that it’s easier to spend time talking about Christianity than it is to spend time practicing it.

The same thing is true regarding freedom: freedom is easier to talk about than to cherish, even though it was to purchase our freedom that our Lord was willing to lay down his own life. Real freedom is ours when we willingly choose to lay down our lives and follow him. And freedom is precious.

History bears powerful witness to the fact that freedom is never more in danger than when people with fine intentions become complicit in trying to take it away—always “for the good” of the folks whose freedom they are busy filching.

I felt a little funny recently as I sat down to write an e-mail note to my state legislators (who evidently have too much time on their hands) urging them not to enact a proposed law designed to make it illegal to allow smoking in Texas-licensed bars and restaurants. (They’ll not listen.) You’re welcome to disagree with me—that’s called freedom—but though I’ve never spent much time smoking on a bar stool, it seems to me that freedom is the issue at stake.

No one should be forced to breathe other folks’ smoke, but most places already have a good many “anti-smoking” ordinances of one sort or another (we’re in no danger of running out of laws), and it seems to me that the government already has much more to say than it should about how a shopkeeper runs his own business. We consumers are not quite as stupid as those who want to “protect” us by taking away our freedom think we are. Let consumers cast their votes with their feet and let the free market do what it does very well—at least in the now-rare occasions when it’s left free. Smart barkeeps will take note and respond. No new law by the Nanny State required.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book about the history of another governmental stab at freedom: it was called Prohibition, and whether you’re dry as a bone or wet as a fish, all you have to do is read a little history to see that it was an utter disaster that led to staggering amounts of corruption, crime (both serious and silly varieties), greed, waste, hypocrisy, and, ironically, more-than-before dangerous drinking of an often much more dangerous product.

The law’s loopholes were interesting. Sellers of sacramental wine did very well indeed and offered an impressive number of flavors and varieties for, I suppose, the most discerning religious palate. Alcohol for medicinal purposes could easily be had—one pint every ten days with a prescription. Even dentists and, yes, veterinarians were allowed to prescribe a certain amount of hooch for the health of their parched patients.

The most pretentiously pious puritans usually end up looking the silliest. But when we lightly give up freedom, we end up paying a heavy price. Ah, but you’re welcome to disagree. Why? Because, thank God indeed, you’re free.