With True Freedom Comes Accountability

By Rachel Puryear

There is a popular saying that “Freedom Isn’t Free”. You have likely seen these words emblazoned over red, white, and blue bumper stickers, perhaps alongside an American Eagle image. The saying is commonly used as a pro-military expression, in the context of referring to the sacrifices of U.S. veterans.

The saying “Freedom Isn’t Free” is absolutely true – freedom is not free. Veterans, of course, deserve sincere thanks for their service. The meaning of the saying, however, could be broadened – to remind us all that with true freedom, also comes accountability. Accountability is a fair price for each of us to pay for freedom.

Figures facing each other and holding two puzzle pieces together, each of which say “You” with an arrow pointing away, and also “Me” with an arrow pointing towards them.

There has been aggressive and vocal pushback from a vocal minority of the population against pandemic control measures. Such opposed measures include mask mandates and vaccination requirements. The opposition to pandemic abatement measures argues, vociferously; that requirements of wearing masks and getting vaccinated in order to do things like attend school, hold many jobs, and much more; amounts to an unconscionable attack on their personal freedoms.

Some of these people talk about school masking requirements for children as though they were decrying conditions in Dickens-era orphanages – probably without a moment’s thought to how a spreading virus impacts the safety of children with disabilities and health problems to attend school.

What anti-pandemic-control arguments lack is any underlying fundamental sense of accountability, or consideration of the rights or needs of others. Freedom is not about going around doing whatever one likes – that would instead be lawlessness. In order for true freedom to thrive, accountability must be part and parcel.

A young man wears a mask while a doctor bandages him after his vaccination.

For instance: We are free to swing our fists. That freedom to swing fists, however, ends at someone else’s face. We are accountable, in exercising the freedom to swing fists, for not hitting others. Likewise, people around us swinging their fists around us are responsible for not hitting our faces.

Hand grabbing a wrist to stop a swinging fist.

Some people are choosing to not be vaccinated, and to reject the consensus among credible medical practitioners that vaccines are safe and effective in fighting the pandemic. Vaccine refusers have that choice, in the sense that no one is tying them down and forcing vaccination.

Actions, however, have consequences. A choice to remain unvaccinated means foregoing opportunities and privileges available to people who do get vaccinated, even if that means enduring hardship and lost opportunities. Consequences for actions is part of accountability.

The idea that vaccination and masking requirements are attacks on personal freedom reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about the meaning of freedom. Flouting pandemic control measures does not make anyone more free – rather, it makes all of us less free, by prolonging the pandemic and increasing infections and deaths. That goes even more so for people at high risk from the virus, and people who cannot be vaccinated due to age or for legitimate medical reasons.

Getting vaccinated and wearing masks is a civic duty.

Freedom without accountability makes all of us less free. Freedom with accountability makes all of us more free.

Here are just a few of the other ways that laws and social expectations can add accountability to freedom, and which are generally accepted:

  • People are required to wear seat belts while driving, or riding in vehicles. Drivers are also required to follow the rules of the road, in order to keep the privilege of driving.
  • Bicyclists and motorcyclists are subject to rules, too – they can be required to wear helmets, and they must also follow the rules of the road.
  • Long before Covid, adults and children have been required to have various vaccinations before they can do certain things – including going to school, working in certain occupations, traveling to some places, and more.
  • Almost all male U.S. citizens and immigrants ages 18-25 are required to register with Selective Service. Countless citizens have also served in the military, as well as in support efforts during wartimes.
  • Many occupations and businesses require a license to work in them (like doctors, lawyers, contractors, brokers), and a license or permit is required to sell many products (like alcohol, food). Consumer products sold must also meet certain requirements related to quality, safety, environmental, and other regulations.
  • Firearms and other weapons are regulated (though, arguably, not as much as they should be).
  • Actions as falsely yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, or inciting a riot, or making fraudulent or defamatory statements; are not protected by the First Amendment. Even most champions of free speech agree with such limitations. (Currently, we as a society are also faced with a heavy degree of widespread misinformation. How we face that challenge, and tackle misinformation; while at the same time protecting the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints, and protecting the right to express our thoughts and feelings to one another as an essential part of human relationships, and all that is in the spirit of truly free speech; is indeed tricky. There are no easy answers to that.)
  • Freedom of religion also has limits – people are free to believe what they want, but they cannot break the law because of religious beliefs. For instance, religious belief is not a defense to illegal drug use. (There are existing laws in this country which undermine the spirit of this law, however – such as allowing medical providers to deny essential family planning care because of their own religious beliefs, rather than meeting patient needs. Such providers should be told instead to find a new career where their beliefs and patient needs do not conflict – otherwise, as it is now, these providers have freedom without accountability; as their patients’ freedoms are denied. Laws, of course, sometimes get it wrong, which is why advocacy is essential.)
  • If you own a piece of real property, lots of laws and regulations apply to if and how you can build on it, and how you can use it. For instance, you cannot open a nightclub in your basement in a residential-only neighborhood, or build a house without proper permits.
  • If you want to travel outside the country, you must first obtain a passport. Some countries will require you to obtain a visa. If you want to stay for the long term, you must meet that country’s immigration requirements. Likewise, people traveling and moving to the U.S. must also meet such requirements here.
  • If you have a child, you have extensive obligations to support and care for that child, and you may not abuse or neglect your child. This has to meet certain standards, too – even if a parent thinks it’s ok to, for instance; make their children drop out of school to get a job, or beat them as a punishment; laws might state otherwise.

And so, so many others. This list could go on and on.

Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of deadly diseases. Getting vaccinated means doing a small, but important, part in combatting the virus. That’s being accountable for the freedoms associated with being vaccinated.

The next time someone tries to tell you that it’s none of your concern whether or not they are vaccinated, or that in general they can do whatever they want without having to ever think about anyone else; you can remind them that many others, including veterans, have served their country and made far greater sacrifices than is being asked of all of us now. Getting vaccinated is a very small form of service that is not too much to ask of anyone.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to freedom with the appropriate level of accountability.

If there is something you would like to see addressed on this blog, please reach out to me here to ask. If you want to see more content like this and you don’t already subscribe, click here to get the Free Range Life and Work newsletter!


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