Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What is freedom?


The Mirror of Justice and many other forums discussing the important issues of the day have been addressing freedom. A great deal of the recent focus has been on the claim made by many devout religious believers, including Catholics, that the HHS mandates for health insurance coverage of morally and legally problematic “services”. Of course there are some libertarians who view their perspective as the only one or the best one or the accurate one who disagree with this thought.

Virtually all speakers, sooner or later, rely on some form of the freedom argument. I think they are correct in this pursuit, especially when notions about the rule of law come into play. But what is freedom? Is it as the plurality in Planned Parenthood v. Casey argued: “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” If so, the collision course which I and others have predicted before is happening once again. In the context of the HHS mandate, we have the folks relying on “religious freedom” in direct conflict with those arguing “reproductive rights freedoms.”

But, one distinction between these two positions quickly emerges: the first group comprising advocates for religious freedom is not asking the second group to pay for their freedom; however, the second group is asking the first to pay for their freedom claim for “reproductive health services.” Should this distinction matter? Indeed, it should. But that is not why I write today. Rather, there is another, far more basic reason which rides on the meaning of freedom. What is it?

In previous postings I have drawn the distinction between the freedom “from” something and the freedom “for” something. Oftentimes the “something” is an authority. But that is not the only something. After a lot of pondering, I think the “something” is fundamentally that which permeates all human existence. The elemental reason for the distinction between the “from” and the “for” is this: there are things that are right, good, and proper for the human person to pursue because they affect many and sometimes all other members of the human family. There are also some things which the human person wants to do because they fulfill or satiate the individual will, i.e., the desires of this person, but these personal objectives do not take stock of the important interests of others. Another explanation for the distinction involves the reality of the Casey dicta: the desirable is what the individual person wants, and that’s it; there is no need to consider anybody else. This approach is a problem.

So is there some way of satisfactorily addressing this predicament?

A thought of Lord Acton offers relevant help. He once explained that authentic freedom is not that which the person wants or desires; rather, it is that which the person must do.

Note how the first element—doing what the individual wants—replicates the Casey formulation. This formulation coincides with the HHS mandate: the “freedom” of persons who want artificial birth control, abortion-inducing chemicals, sterilization, and other desires. This “freedom” is not something that ought to be done for the sake of all including the unborn and those persons with well-formed moral consciences that take stock of the “ought.”

Religious liberty is in the cross-hairs these days. I wish it were otherwise, but since it is not, let me suggest something for this web log community to consider: which of these two fundamental camps that I have identified in the HHS mandate matter is pursuing the self-serving and which is pursuing the other-serving? I submit that the distinction is clear.


RJA sj



Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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