WANDERLUST: There’s more than one kind of freedom

Originally published in The Mooring Mast Nov. 4, 2013

Americans like to think they live in the number one free country. Not just a free country — the freest of the free. Freedom is a major theme in most of our patriotic songs, not the least of which being the national anthem.

We honor our military because they “defend our freedom.” Even school children have latched onto the idea, justifying every bad behavior with “it’s a free country — I can do what I want.”

But are we really free?  Well, compared to a lot of countries, yes. We hold democratic elections, we have an independent press and we have a Constitution that asserts an array of rights and freedoms.

This does not make us exceptional, however. Most developed nations can make those claims as well. And there are several freedoms some nations have that we don’t.

Germans, for instance, are shocked Americans go around touting their freedom when most public lakes in America don’t even allow nude bathing. What a horrible, totalitarian regime, they say, banning its own citizens from swimming au natural.

And to require swimsuits while sunbathing is also quite shocking for many Germans. They don’t understand how Americans can call themselves free when they don’t even have the freedom to swim in their own skin.

Even the socialist regime of the former German Democratic Republic allowed skinny dipping, albeit grudgingly.

Sure, America’s got a few on Germany as well. We’ve got virtually unlimited freedom of speech.

In the United States you can share your opinion no matter how unpopular it is, you can speak out against the government or lie about political candidates, and you can call people whatever derogatory names you want, all with protection from the good ole’ First Amendment.

Other countries don’t have that. In Germany, for instance, Holocaust denial is illegal. You can be fined for saying the Holocaust never happened.

While this law is somewhat controversial, most Germans accept the fact that it’s there for a good reason. This is a freedom they’re willing to give up, because some things are more important than free speech.

The Germans were shocked, however, when the American government tried to prosecute whistleblower Edward Snowden for leaking national secrets. The United States calls itself a free country, Germany criticized, and yet this is how it treats people who reveal the truth about the government.

That would never happen in Germany, and Germans don’t even go around singing about liberty and justice on every national holiday like we do.

Other freedoms Germans enjoy are a bit less important. For instance, the alcohol culture is much more relaxed in Europe. In Berlin, drinking in public is both legal and socially acceptable. They think it’s an infringement on personal freedoms that Americans can’t pop open a beer on the drive home from work.

It’s not uncommon to see people sitting in parks, on sidewalk cafes or even on the underground with a beer in their hands. I can’t imagine this catching on in the U.S. anytime soon.

My point is not that the United States isn’t a free country, because it most certainly is. Just think twice, though, before assuming we’re the freest country of them all.


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