Independence Day is a great time to reaffirm our commitment to freedom and liberty and freedom of choice.  It’s what Thomas Jefferson called the Declarative Charter of Our Rights and it’s what sets us apart as a nation and what continues to define us today. We have been the model of freedom – economic, political, and social – for centuries.  Emerging countries follow our lead.  Our Army, Navy, and Air Force have supported freedom across the globe. But while we provide support, ideology, and the lives of our men and women to these other nations, have we altered course on our own soil? They say you can’t take freedom for granted, but have we? Just how free are we in the United States of America today?  I know plenty of Americans that don’t recognize the country they grew up in.  They are scared of the path we’re on, and maybe it should scare you a bit too.

The antonym of freedom is subjection. One is subjected when they are placed under authority or control. Subjects are studied, they are captured, and their freedom is withheld. Does being studied sound familiar (hint – NSA)? Our economy is based on free market principals, our society on those of freedom, both principles fail under certain pressures, namely when the freedom of people to make choices and live is lost through a control or limit placed over the individual by an outside force, in this case, our government.

Every year the U.S. State Department issues a report on individual rights in other countries. In this report, they let the public know that comparably, we are still free. It’d be interesting if this report compared America-to-America, year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and President-to-President.  Instead the report tells us about the passage of stricter laws in other countries. For example, the report (and the government, generally) will tell us how Iran is having unfair public trials and invading into individual privacy, or that Russia is undermining due process and interfering with the judicial system. But who are we to caste stones? The U.S. government passes judgment on other countries, and they count on that passing of judgment on others to make us feel that we should remain confident that the definition of a free nation is and always will be the United States.  Yet our laws and practices of our government are now actually shaking many Americans confidence.  Look no further than to the IRS, NSA and Justice Department scandals.

With the enactment of the USA Patriot Act and all of its subsequent executive directives and regulations, essentially the rights and liberties granted us as U.S. citizens have been eroded. Americans have lost freedoms due to the expansion of government powers.  The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting freedom of speech and association has been eroded.  Also eroded is the 4th Amendment restricting unlawful search and seizures.  Even with the First Amendment, government agencies can now monitor political and religious institutions and then inflict upon these groups without suspicion of illegal activity. 

This is a return to domestic spying on law abiding religious and political groups. Law enforcement can now conduct secret searches and wiretaps in your home or office without showing probable cause. All they need to do now is claim that the intelligence gathering is a significant purpose of their intrusion even when the primary goal is law enforcement.  They can monitor when and to whom you send emails and where you go on the Internet.  That’s what is happening now in the United States.  This started when the USA Patriot Act was passed.  This is not a Democrat or Republican problem, but extends across political parties and ideologies.  One that is not free is subjected, studied, captured, and rights withheld.

The Obama administration has successfully pushed the immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy.  Over the last two weeks we have learned that 50 plus U.S. companies have handed over Americans private data to the Federal government to use for data mining.  Will this change your personal behavior?  Have U.S. citizens always presumed that their personal data and activity was available for Washington snooping or is this a brand new consciousness?

Do we even recognize America today?  Do we still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave? How free are we really in the United States?  I don’t believe we are as free as we were 25 years ago and we’ll be even less free 25 years from now.

The U.S. Constitution is a pledge by the people to themselves to preserve freedom at all cost.  Our government today is the potential threat to that freedom which is why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  We are the ones that have to mind it.   This is what the Fourth of July is all about.  It’s about our eternal commitment to freedom and liberty.  The United States is the people, not the government, and the people should be telling the government what to do, not the other way around.  

Dawn Bennett is co-portfolio manager of Bennett Funds and CEO and Founder of Bennett Group Financial Services. She can be reached at