Monday, October 03, 2005

Real and Imagined Threats to Freedom

Virginia Postrel makes an important point in Forbes:

U.S. scientists and their supporters tend to assume biomedical research is threatened by know-nothings on religious crusades. But as the Canadian law illustrates, the long-term threat to genetic research comes less from the religious right than from the secular left. Canada's law forbids all sorts of genetic manipulations, many of them currently theoretical. It's a crime, for instance, to alter inheritable genes.

And the law has provisions the fabled religious right never even talks about. It's a crime to pay a surrogate mother or to make or accept payment for arranging a surrogate. It's a crime to pay egg or sperm donors anything more than "receipted expenses," like taxi fares. Since eggs are used not just in fertility treatments but in research, this prohibition stifles both.

Meanwhile, in backward, intolerant America objections to embryonic stem-cell research and therapeutic cloning are less politically persuasive than they were a few years ago. With the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Congress is close to a veto-proof majority to expand federal subsidies for embryonic stem-cell research. Many conservative leaders are uncomfortable opposing potentially lifesaving research.

Read the whole thing.

Sometimes we forget that a very important fact: the biggest threat to freedom is not religion or religious groups. It is not the personal beliefs of private individuals; nor is it even state or local governments. The greatest threat to freedom is the federal government; because only they can completely take away your freedom of choice.

If you hate a local or even a state law and believe it violates your fundamental rights, there is redress--or, you can move to a state or country whose legislature agrees with you. If it becomes a federal law--then your options are extremely limited.

That is why when morality or science is legislated at a federal or national level, it actualy limits freedom.

As we can see from Postrel's op-ed piece, it also can criminalize science--not just limit or end federal funding for certain scientific ideas. It is one thing to limit federal funding for an issue that is genuinely controversial among citizens in a free country. It is completely different to criminalize one side of an issue in science or even morality.

I hate to break it to anyone who believes in the omnipotent goodness of centralized government, but just because there is no federal funding for your pet science project (or your pet moral issue)--it does not mean that the science is banned--or even that the freedom to pursue your agenda is impacted.

It only means that in a democracy, people don't have to have their tax money support abhorent (to them) moral choices or scientific endeavors which they vehemently oppose.

That is why forcing a "right" to an abortion; or a "right" to therapeutic cloning or embryonic stem cell research funding or even a "right" to same-sex marriage is actually more threatening to real freedom in this country. What happens to the "right" to disagree with such controversial activities? What happens to the freedom of people who find these things morally repugnant, yet must turn over their hard-earned money to support them?

Neither the religious right nor the secular left have the right to impose their moral or scientific agenda and criminalize those whose views and beliefs are different. Neither the right nor the left should use the power of the federal government to impose their morality on everyone else.

Think about it.

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