The last twenty years have seen the freedom of the American people get eroded by binding court decisions, policies, and laws established by both state and local governments. This trend is disturbing and sends a message of arrogance from politicians and bureaucrats. It could be interpreted as they believe they understand how others should live, raise their children, take care of their bodies, and manage their health. While their intentions may protect the citizens, the consequences are far-reaching. It is upon the government to protect its people, but sometimes the government protects people from themselves. In my opinion, this is beyond their limits and infringes upon the right to freedom of choice. People should be allowed to make decisions affecting their lives, liberties, and properties, so long as they do nothing to jeopardize the safety and rights of others.
Freedom for the average American has declined as federal policies encroached on policies controlled by states years ago. This has resulted in more states being less free than others based on taxation, education, marriage restrictions, and marijuana regulation. For example, North Dakota is rated as the worst state in America for educational freedom (Cato Institute, 2021). The state does not offer the choice of picking private or public schools because private schools and homeschools are harshly regulated. There exist such impositions as mandatory teacher licensing, state approval, and detailed curriculum requirements. Homeschooling families are overwhelmed by the notification and record-keeping burdens. Maryland is also set up similarly, with compulsory schooling years raised from 11 in 2014 to 13 in 2017 (Cato Institute, 2021). It should be upon individual families to decide the system of schooling in which they want to enroll their children. Therefore, the state should be unbiased in regulating the differences and eradicate mandatory state approval and teacher licensing if the same is not accorded to public schools.
Critiques argue that humans have a track record of making choices they believe would make them happier. However, they often end up regretting these poor decisions as an outcome. For instance, most people believe that getting a pay increase or winning a lottery would make them happier, but it does little for those that are relatively well off (Papke, 2020). That is not to say that money cannot increase happiness because holidays and other memorable experiences lead to well-being. Nevertheless, more money comes with increased responsibilities, and some individuals engage in harmful activities such as drug and alcohol abuse. Others may fail to invest their money wisely and be worse off than before.
While I agree that people’s poor choices can be prevented with governmental protection, one should not simply dismiss individuals’ right to autonomy. I propose raising awareness about the potential dangers as a solution that does not infringe on one’s rights. For instance, the government could establish institutions to constantly remind people and teach them the benefits and drawbacks of certain practices. Some laws may be necessary, such as license suspension for drunk drivers or community service for some crimes. However, the government does not need to prosecute people for offenses that do not present any apparent danger to society – such cases show clear infringement upon one’s liberties. For example, Tennessee passed a bill in 2009 that saw students in “sagging” trousers get a $250 fine and possibly a few days in jail (Papke, 2020). Such measures are stepping over the line between agreed-upon norms of etiquette and enforced dress code.
In conclusion, some policies show double standards on the part of the government. People are more likely to comply and behave better if they understand and do not feel the threat of losing their freedom of choice. However, the fear of punishment may lead some individuals to act outside the law in secret. Therefore, the government should not create laws and policies considered overbearing, as they infringe on individual rights.
Cato Institute. (2021). Freedom in the 50 States.
Papke, D. R. (2020). Beware the Nanny State: Neoliberal ideology and American health law reform. Open Journal of Political Science, 10(2), 278-301.