Op-Ed: Personal Freedoms

I get a lot of emails every week, and the longer governor Wolf’s “stay at home” order continues, the more I’m hearing from citizens becoming genuinely concerned for their personal freedoms and liberties.  Honestly, the ratio of “open our society” vs “keep us locked indoors” is at least 50:1.  On most political issues I’d normally find the ratio to be 60:40 (to one side or the other). 

Many, maybe most people in the 24th senate district I represent, want to see our society re-opened, including businesses, restaurants, stores, personal services like hair cuttery, real estate, etc.  But to be fair, there are still citizens who want to see the closures continue, and I respect their perspective.

However, given the overwhelming sentiment from constituents that they are losing their personal freedoms, they’ve set me to thinking a lot more about our personal freedoms-guaranteed by the Constitutions of the US and Pennsylvania.

I often talk about an economics professor I had who was a Czechoslovakian Jew who lost his mother, sister and father in the Nazi labor camp, Treblinka.  I met him in 1965, and WWII was still a fresh reference.  He constantly commented that he could not understand “why Americans were so willing to give up our freedoms”.  As a 19 year old I didn’t really understand his point of reference.  Today I surely do—and I believe most of us do.

Many years later I dined with one of the organizers of the International Spring Festival in North Penn.  He was formerly from Hungary, was a newspaper editor there and had to flee the country for his life.  At dinner, he made the same comment as the economics professor, “why do Americans so willingly give up our freedoms”.   50 or so years apart and yet here was the same comment from two men who each had their lives terribly scared by oppressive governments.  To be clear I am not attempting to compare our current state administration to either of those governments.  But the parallel of willingly giving up our freedoms is too coincidental to ignore.

We, American citizens, in a concession to an order from our governor, have surrendered our personal freedoms; and our mental health; and our family health; and our economic health.  Some argue that’s okay, because people have maintained their physical health.  But is it okay? That’s for each of us to decide I believe—and that’s one of our human, and American rights—to decide for ourselves!

So, in a trade for a possible unknown—the virus, we’ve given up our known personal liberties.  I have advocated all along that while we need to protect the health of every citizen, we need equal attention to the economy and our personal freedoms.

The sooner the governor lifts his stay at home order, the sooner we must reclaim the personal freedoms his order has taken from us.  In America, it is not okay to have our freedoms seized by any government for any reason.  It would be okay for the government to work with its citizens in a transparent and forthright way so as to use creative ways to protect our health, while at the same time, protecting our individual rights and freedoms.