I recently came across a Facebook post that perfectly summed up America’s continuing failure to make sane public policy consistent with the country’s founding premises. It pointed to the absurdity of far-right definitions of “freedom”:
You can regulate a human body, but not a coal plant. You can regulate the speech of a teacher, but not the money-as-speech of a corporation. You can coerce a child to pray in school, but not keep guns out of the classroom.
“You” are American lawmakers.
The post attributed these truly insane results to the Supreme Court, and the Court certainly deserves a considerable part of the blame, but so do the lawmakers who play to–or are part of– the Rightwing fringe.
The Indiana legislature is a good example. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, our legislative overlords took hardly any time to ban abortion, but has struggled–and frequently failed– to regulate environmental hazards. The state has the most miles of rivers and streams too polluted to swim in, and we also lead the country in toxic emissions, among other deficiencies. The legislature’s focus on culture war issues routinely takes precedence over concerns for public health, and lawmakers’ concern for the rights of farmers and utilities just as routinely outweighs concerns about the environment.
Our Hoosier lawmakers have a long history of telling teachers what to do–from older efforts aimed at prescribing how they should teach reading to periodic instructions about “character” education, to the more recent efforts to keep them from teaching about the less laudatory parts of our history or recognizing the existence of LGBTQ citizens. These persistent efforts have not been matched by efforts to restrain the influence of corporate dollars.
And don’t even start me on the Indiana General Assembly and guns. The pious hypocrites who continually try to shoehorn God into public school classrooms–and failing that (due to that pesky First Amendment Establishment Clause) support the vouchers that siphon money from Indiana’s public schools and send them to private religious schools–continue to make firearms more easily available, most recently by ignoring law enforcement testimony and public opinion and eliminating the need to obtain a permit.
The hypocrisy is overwhelming.
The same “freedom fighters” who were outraged by mask mandates during the pandemic see no inconsistency with mandates to carry a pregnancy to term. They claim the “God-given right” to be free of a minor inconvenience that would protect their friends and neighbors, but are perfectly willing to interfere with medical science and the bodily autonomy of women.
Lawmakers who are solicitous about protecting factory farms from “onerous” regulation show considerably less concern about protecting the environment and the health of their constituents, despite evidence that those farms are massive polluters.To focus on just one element of that pollution, researchers tell us that industrial livestock farms produce up to 1.37 billion tons of manure annually—and that that’s 20 times more fecal waste than the entire U.S. human population, posing serious pollution risks to water and air.
The Indiana lawmakers who insist upon protecting the untrammeled, unimpeded right to own guns–including weapons more appropriate for war than personal protection–are blithely unconcerned with the havoc and death those weapons cause.
IN AN AVERAGE YEAR, 931 PEOPLE DIE BY GUNS IN INDIANA. WITH A RATE OF 14 DEATHS PER 100,000 PEOPLE, INDIANA HAS THE 19TH-HIGHEST RATE OF GUN DEATHS IN THE US.
In Indiana, 61% of gun deaths are suicides and 36% are homicides. This is compared to 61% and 36% respectively, nationwide.
The rate of gun deaths in Indiana increased 30%↑ from 2009 to 2018, compared to an 18%↑ increase over this same time period nationwide. In Indiana, the rate of gun suicide increased 24%↑ and gun homicide increased 49%↑ from 2009 to 2018, compared to a 19%↑ increase and an 18%↑ increase nationwide, respectively.
Across the nation, deadly attacks on schoolchildren are accelerating. The same legislators who are willing to tell education professionals how to teach and what to say remain unwilling to require even minimal background checks as a condition of buying the lethal weapons increasingly used to mow down the children in those classrooms.
There are, obviously, many other examples of misplaced legislative zeal.
The basic question citizens need to confront is: what is government for? What sorts of rules should government have the authority to impose, and what matters are properly left to each individual?
Our system was founded on the principle that Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends–their own life goals–so long as they did not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as they were willing to accord an equal liberty to their fellow citizens.
Hoosier lawmakers continue to get it backwards.