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New Birth of Freedom

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July 2011

As the crow flies it’s about 700 miles east of our house, 872.10 miles according to MapQuest.  We’d head out there in a New York minute. Stockbridge, Massachusetts is home to the works of Norman Rockwell, perhaps our country’s most beloved artist.  A commercial illustrator by trade, Rockwell had the ability to capture the heart of a country through simple pictures of common folks. His paintings portray the best of the American spirit.

Many of Rockwell’s illustrations were produced during one of America’s most difficult times. Hitler’s juggernaut had overrun Europe, subjecting all in its cruel path to suffering and death. In early 1941, as the prospect of U.S. involvement grew, President Franklin Roosevelt rallied Congress and the people to the cause of freedom. In his mind, four freedoms were essential: freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Two years later, Rockwell set those freedoms to oil on canvas. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, exhibited throughout the country and reproduced on posters and postage stamps, helped to raise about $132 billion for the cause. A reviewer said that Fours Freedoms was received more enthusiastically than possibly any other paintings in American history.

That reaction was not just a testament to America’s love of Rockwell’s works. It was a testament to our love of freedom. We cherish our liberty as an inalienable right. But we have lost sight of its meaning and source. In our blindness we are treating the killing of innocent human beings as freedom, something it is not.

Thirty years after Four Freedoms, the Supreme Court claimed to have discovered a fifth freedom, one supposedly hidden in the shadows of the Constitution. It is the so-called right of reproductive freedom, better known as legal abortion. It has become so woven into the fabric of our culture that those who oppose it are even seen as unpatriotic. Recently, Frank Lautenberg, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, spoke at a rally of Planned Parenthood supporters seeking to retain PP’s federal funding. Met with resistance from pro-lifers, Lautenberg shouted, “These people don’t deserve the freedoms in the Constitution.” As an afterthought he added, “But we’ll give it to them anyway.”

The Supreme Court and the senator have highlighted our misunderstanding of the nature and source of freedom. We easily confuse the concepts of freedom and license. Freedom is the ability to act on one’s own, the power to direct and control one’s own life. But freedom is only a means to an end. It implies the responsibility to pursue good. True freedom exists only when it brings us to the objectively good. Authentic freedom drives us to seek God, our greatest good. That’s why the catch phrase “freedom of choice” is misleading. It begs the question: free to choose what? By contrast, the perversion of freedom is license, which acts for its own end unrestrained by any moral sense or right or wrong. Reason gets tossed out the window. A person does what, when, and how he wants, regardless of its effect on self or others. Just as true freedom ultimately liberates, license ultimately enslaves.

Legal abortion is a not freedom at all. At its core is an evil act. What other freedom seeks to kill an innocent human being? Or put another way, why don’t abortion advocates ever fully answer that question: choose what? People may have various reasons to seek abortions, but the object of the “choice” is always the same: the intended death of an unborn baby.

We have also misunderstood the source of our freedom.  We see government as its source, and worse yet, so does government. Just ask Frank Lautenberg. But our freedoms don’t come from senators, or judges, or even the Constitution. Our freedoms are a gift given by our Creator, and if we forget that truth we will surrender them. Ironically, we may have already started the process through the decision legalizing abortion. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that the unborn are not persons. By default, they become property. The Constitution authorizes the government to take property provided that it pays just compensation.  Down the road, a government wanting to control population may use that power to force abortions. It’s happening now in China. This June, Al Gore called for the limiting of family sizes to protect the environment. Gore was one vote away from the Presidency.

In 1863, we warred over whether a class of human beings legally could be treated as property. Six years earlier, the Supreme Court had said yes. In three July days at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, about 8,000 soldiers were killed. As the war moved elsewhere, their rotting bodies littered the field. Local officials created a cemetery, and as an afterthought asked President Lincoln to offer “a few appropriate remarks” at its dedication.  We know the remarks. Our nation was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln’s memorable words recognized the connection between life and freedom. Our founding fathers conceived a country in which the right to life served as the basis of freedom and the pursuit of happiness. They understood that the right to life was God’s gift meant for all, not just the privileged and powerful. And for his part, Lincoln confirmed the truth that government’s purpose is to preserve the freedom of all, not to take it away.

Lincoln believed that if the living dedicated themselves to the unfinished work of the dead, our country would at last experience a “new birth of freedom.”  Today we are fighting another war. We have our own dead, 53 million and counting, lost to another false notion of freedom. Our women and men, young and old, are being enslaved by the license of legal abortion. It is our turn to dedicate ourselves to the task ahead.

A new birth of freedom. Authentic freedom. For all. It’s worth the fight.

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics.  He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they are raising their six kids.

© Paul V. Esposito 2011.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Comments? Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com

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