Sen. John Rodgers and President Eisenhower on dangers of surrendering freedom

By David Flemming

On Aug. 2, Channel 17 Town Meeting Television held a forum in advance of Vermont’s Aug. 14 primary. They hosted five Democrat candidates running for Vermont governor: Sen. John Rodgers, Ethan Sonneborn, James Ehlers, Christine Hallquist and Brenda Siegel.

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Four candidates praised Gov. Phil Scott’s signing of the three gun restriction bills that culminated in the signing of S.55, but state Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, objected:

I did not support S.55. That is a bill that does take away Vermonters’ constitutional rights. If we truly want safety then let’s look at the First Amendment. Maybe we should give the government and law enforcement access to everybody’s phones and computers and license plate readers and facial recognition and that would make everybody safer. But I don’t think we’re willing to give up our First Amendment rights for that. And I think all’s we did is turn law-abiding citizens into criminals.

While folks may disagree with Rodgers on other things, his well-articulated response should give us all pause. Rodgers succinctly makes the case for Vermonters’ sacred freedoms, contrasted with a desire for safety. His question is plain, but weighty: “Would you rather be safe or be free?” At one time in Vermont’s history, the vast majority of us would have answered “free” without hesitation. But as the world seems to spin out of control, an ever-growing number of Vermonters are finding themselves willing to give up some of their rights and responsibilities if they can get more safety.

Imagine a police force that had permission to use artificial intelligence to sift through millions of text messages originating from Vermont cell phones, thereby identifying “future criminals,” before finally confiscating firearms from those it deemed “a security risk.” We might be able to stop a few crimes this way. But we would all sacrifice a great deal of freedom in the process.

As President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking … is freedom.” No government can ever provide total security, but that has never prevented governments from trying to convince citizens that this is possible. And once the government decides what quantities of health care and defense weapons each person is entitled to, those who are willing to work harder for higher quantities will find themselves constrained by what government deems are the “right amounts for everyone.” Those amounts often look suspiciously like rations.

While our legislators have made Vermont less free in recent years, we are still free to make choices that the majority of the global population can only dream about. Let us be grateful that we live where we do, even as we fight to make Vermont a freer place to live.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.