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July/August 2022Vol. 23, No. 6The Crux of Individual Freedom

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

We entered the month of June in full celebration mode. All around the country, we acknowledged and celebrated Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in this country. This was only the first anniversary of Juneteenth as a federal holiday; as old as Juneteenth is for the African American community, its observance by this nation is still new. Juneteenth is all about freedom. We also celebrated LGBTQI+ Pride. June is our annual opportunity to embrace our LGBTQI+ and gender nonconforming identities and our allyship with the LGBTQI+ community. There were rainbows everywhere! Pride was born out of agitation and a refusal to concede. Pride is all about freedom. We entered June with maximum joy. It found us living but left us longing.

The crux of individual freedom is that in this country, we live freely, publicly, but only as long as we have been given the permission to do so. We have to fight hard for each of our freedoms; historically, for some of us, they are parceled out piece by piece. The battles are on record.   Individual freedom most certainly is not free. Toward the end of the month, we were reminded about the fragility of our individual freedom.  

On the same day that the Senate passed gun control legislation intended to keep our society safer, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down a century-old New York law, which required gun seekers to show "proper cause" for carrying a gun outside of the home. The law was intended to keep residents safer. SCOTUS cited the constitutional right to bear arms and opined that this freedom should be enjoyed without interference. Many argue the constitutional right to bear arms is about individual freedom, while others ask, "What about my freedom to live life safely and free from gun violence?" Individual freedom is multifaceted and complex. 

A few days later, SCOTUS struck down Roe vs. Wade, a law that gave pregnant people the right to seek abortion health care. This is also about individual freedom—the freedom to choose or not choose to become a parent. Battles were fought and won 50 years ago to achieve that freedom. SCOTUS demonstrated swiftly that the individual freedom we may enjoy today, with permission, can be seized overnight. In this country of over 330 million, 5 people aptly exhibited their power to destroy an individual freedom.

The crux of individual freedom is that it is not fixed, and it is not free. Individual freedom is complex. We may have different ideas about what freedom is and how it should manifest. Your individual freedom might make me feel unsafe. My individual freedom may run contrary to your personal sensibilities. In this country, we have the right to fight for our individual freedom. The stakes are high so the battles will be fought, because the pursuit of individual freedom is the pearl in the oyster. Freedom is at the core of it all, for each of us.