Renew the Four Freedoms

img_7090On January 6, 1941, on the eve of the most disastrous conflict of the 20th century, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered an address to a joint session of Congress. In his address, he stressed the need for American self-determination at home and international engagement abroad. Yet, this speech is less remembered for what the President described but for what he called for. It was in this address that FDR laid out his vision of freedom for both Americans and citizens of the world. He called these proscriptions “The Four Freedoms,” and he outlined them towards the end of his speech. Roosevelt declared:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

In my estimation, this is the most succinct and powerful statement of freedom ever uttered by an American President, and its vision for the world embodies my own ideals. Roosevelt’s idea of freedom was complex yet understandable, attentive to the heritage of our nation as well as its future.

The first two, freedom of speech and freedom of worship, are the foundational liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Philosophically, they are “negative liberties,” meaning that they are freedoms that are protected from government intrusion or degradation. I have always been a champion of free speech and expression. The freedom to think, write, publish, and speak exist beyond an American sense of rights. They are human rights that under-gird every other right or liberty we can claim as citizens. It is our task, in triumphant as well as troubled times, to defend these rights from any threat or limitation.

The second set expand the nature of freedom, from mere rights granted to us in spite of government to rights guaranteed by government. As such, they are called “positive liberties.” “Freedom from want” ensures that a society takes care of its citizens who are without the means for a better life, from food, shelter, and clothing to basic medical and social services. Roosevelt’s inclusion of this freedom came from his experience of being President during the Great Depression, when millions were unemployed, living in shacks, and barely had enough to eat. He believed in a world where those with less would never suffer the iniquities that had plagued his fellow citizens. Thus, as economist Karl Polanyi noted, when a person’s economic position is stable, their overall personal liberty increases. Put another way by another president, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

The last was “freedom from fear,” meaning that a society protects not only its own but those who can’t protect themselves. In this freedom, Franklin Roosevelt established a liberal, internationalist order that has kept the world largely peaceful for over 70 years. An international political order, with the United States at its center, should supply the military and diplomatic resources necessary to stave off conflicts and to ameliorate others from starting. Every president since FDR has kept this promise. In doing so, they have kept a foreign conflict from hitting our shores, with the exception of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Even so, 9/11 rededicated the United States and its allies to the same principles that Roosevelt outlined in 1941; a world without the leadership of the most powerful nation on earth will be less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful. We haven’t always gotten it right; we’ve made mistakes and blunders that have set our goals back. But FDR’s principle stands. A world without fear is a world worth fighting for.

It is in this tradition that I begin a new campaign, a campaign to reaffirm Roosevelt’s principles for a new generation of Americans. I call this project “Renew the Four Freedoms.” With the election of a President very much the opposite of FDR, we need a movement that will place these ideals at the forefront of our national dialogue. These aren’t partisan values, but are American values. These are the values that Lincoln believed to resonate in “every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land.” I hope that you will join me in the fight for these freedoms. Use the hashtag #renewthefour when discussing these values on social media. Talk about them with your friends and loved ones, on your own podcast or radio show, and on television. Start conversations about what we must do in the coming years. America needs a vision that will unite us, more now than ever before. This is that vision.



The Year Ahead


2016 has been an extremely rewarding year for me. I began this blog, started my first podcast, An Army of Principles, continued my activism as an admin for Philosophical Atheism, and began a partnership with the Atheist Alliance of America. It was this partnership that led to my next podcast project, Secular Nation. I am finally beginning to find my voice within the growing and diverse atheist movement.

With the new year, I have decided to change course. Trying to do both An Army of Principles and Secular Nation, alongside a full-time job and other projects, has been rather taxing on me. I think it is the right time for me to focus on specific projects and end others. It is with this in mind that I am ending An Army of Principles: The Podcast. I plan on doing one, final episode talking about the show and what I hoped to achieve. I will also end my show with a final “Special Comment” about the future of my activism and laying out a new vision for 2017.

With the troubling political landscape personified in the age of Trump, 2017 provides a unique opportunity to be a persistent opposition. Secular Nation is just the show for this opposition. I also hope to get back to some blogging, particularly about longer, more in-depth topics. The sharpening of focus will allow me to give you all more content that I’m passionate about that hopefully entertains and educates in the process. 2017 appears to be a rollicking year and I hope you will come along for the ride.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

trump_machado-jpg_1718483346I was recently browsing one of my favorite bookstores when a realization hit me—again. I was in the presidential book section, gleaning over the latest titles they had shelved. Among the biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, I spotted a couple of books both by and about Donald J. Trump. I thought to myself, “wow, that’s rather odd. Did someone misplace these books? Surely they don’t belong here.” And then it happened; the stark truth hit me in the face like a cold, unwelcome breeze. Those books did belong there, because he will be the 45th President of the United States.

Donald Trump’s election to the White House is a reality I still haven’t gotten used to. With each passing day it feels like a bad nightmare coming apart at the seams. This incoming administration is getting dangerously close to being not only one of the most plutocratic but also one of the most ignorant. His cabinet picks are akin to a rogue’s gallery of villains, each with their own disastrous idiosyncrasies. First, there’s Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General. His own antipathy towards civil rights during the 1960s made him too toxic for a federal judgeship in the 1980s. Also, he’s a climate change “skeptic,” which is a theme we will come back to.

Next, there’s Betsy DeVos, the prospective Secretary of Education. A billionaire and school choice advocate, DeVos has been a champion of voucher programs and charter schools, which have been shown in initial studies to be either below or barely on par with public schools on basic reading or math. She’s also never been educated in the public schools, sent her children to public schools, or served as a public schools administrator. On top of all of this, vouchers have been consistently used to fund religious and parochial schools, which are often at odds with a proper understanding of evolution, climate change, or reproductive health. If you are someone who values public education as I do, having attended them my whole life, this is a terrible choice.

Trump’s potential cabinet is also filled with climate “skeptics” who seek to undermine the international community’s efforts to combat climate change. Scott Pruitt, the man he’s chosen to run the EPA, was described by Rolling Stone’s Tessa Stuart as a “climate denier who fought the expansion of the Clean Water Act and formed a secretive alliance with energy corporations to fight air-pollution regulations. . . .” His pick for Interior, Montana congressman Ryan Zinke, also doubts the science of climate change, saying that, “It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.” Finally, there’s Rick Perry, his choice for Secretary of Energy, who’s called climate change a “contrived, phony mess.” As a coincidental aside, Perry also currently serves on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. So much for trying to take climate change seriously.

The most outlandish pick he’s made since becoming president-elect is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, who backed out of becoming HHS secretary because he thought he was unqualified, is now more than happy to take a job he has even less qualifications for. How does being one of the best brain surgeons in the world prepare you to lead a multi-faceted government bureaucracy dedicated to fair housing and urban planning? I guess being a critic of desegregating housing practices, standing against government programs for those he simply calls the “needy,” and having a friend who helped orchestrate successful real estate deals before his conviction for fraud in 2007.

Then there’s the vice president-elect, Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence supported its controversial version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which harmed its business reputation as well as harmed the civil rights of the LGBTQ community. He also supported a law that required miscarriages and abortions to be given cremation or burial. To be fair, the law never mandated the parents be present or choose which method, and it was deemed unconstitutional, but the fact that he supported it is still pretty egregious. And, as the icing on this fundamentalist cake, he gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of intelligent design in the classrooms. (Check out AAA President AronRa’s YouTube video, PWNing Pence, which refutes the former representative’s ideas on intelligent design and evolution.) Yet, I haven’t even given you the half of it.

So Trump’s cabinet picks and his vp-elect are only the initial soundings of things to come, but they have nonetheless shocked most of the scientific, atheist, and freethought communities. His choices have shown a complete lack of regard for science, the separation of religion and government, and plain common sense. As I reflect back on that day in the bookstore, I keep saying to myself, “One of these things is not like the other.” Trump certainly isn’t like most of the others leaders we’ve had. While there have been presidential failures like James Buchanan and Warren Harding, Trump feels like he belongs in a class of his own. As such, his choices for some of the nation’s most important jobs demonstrate that he has no idea what it means to be reasonable, ethical, or presidential.