Land of the Free




We take our liberties pretty seriously here.One hundred and fifty years ago shots were fired at Fort Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War had begun.The Civil War has been called America's Second Revolutionary War. The question of slavery divided both sides, but the war also set out to answer two fundamental questions. First, whether power lies in states or in a centralized federal government. Second, how we balance individual freedoms against the demands of what those in power determine necessary to serve the common good.These questions are so fundamentally American that they, arguably alone, define our nation's politics. The U.S. Constitution laid out what the government could do. The Bill of Rights suggested what it couldn't and what rights individuals had. Today the debate on specific issues, from the new national healthcare law to same-sex marriage, hinges on whether these are problems for the federal government or the states to address.New Hampshire will continue to play a role in that debate between federal and state's rights. What is interesting here is how little debate exists about the importance of individual rights.Here there is just one answer. It's Live Free or Die. The individual almost always trumps the state. Consider that we are still the only state without a mandatory seat-belt law.So it should be no surprise when a study earlier this summer suggested that New Hampshire was the most "free state" in the country.For the second time we topped the list by a libertarian-minded think tank out of George Mason University. South Dakota came in second. New York was last.On the freedom scale, our statewide smoking ban in restaurants earned bad points, but having same-sex marriage was good. Not having an income tax or sales tax or a motorcycle helmet law was good, but the authors of the study found the state's asset forfeiture law "sub-par." They would also like more lenient marijuana laws.Perhaps no state has lived out its state motto every day like New Hampshire does. Sure, Alaska might be "north to the future" (especially if global warming pans out), but they have to compete with Minnesota's "star of the North" (whatever that means). Florida's "In God We Trust" eventually became the national motto, but most of Florida would not classify as the Bible Belt.New Hampshire was actually one of the last states to assign itself a motto, but every legislative session the phrase is repeatedly invoked. In truth, the libertarian philosophy of staying out of one's wallet and bedroom and anything else is so deeply embedded in the state's political debate that it really doesn't even need to be mentioned.But what is "free"? To the disabled, being free may mean having more government-regulated accessible buildings. To a high school senior, freedom might mean having affordable local colleges (we rank fifth highest for in-state tuition). A small-business owner may find less freedom in high business taxes. Freedom could mean the right to live in the same house in retirement and not have to worry about property taxes growing while on a fixed income.New Hampshire politicians will argue they are always upholding the tradition of the state's motto. But how we define it might still be up for debate. NH<

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