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  • By Bonnie Heidler Special to the Arizona Daily Star

“Freedom is not the right to do as we please, but rather the opportunity to please to do what is right.” (The Rev. Peter Marshall, in a prayer before the U. S. Senate, April 25, 1947)

In the U.S., we are free to criticize our government — and each other — passionately, loudly, even obnoxiously. We are free to carry deadly weapons. We are free to protest peacefully.

We are not free to incite violence with hate speech, shoot people we don’t happen to like or assault peaceful protesters.

Even if these things weren’t enshrined in law, they fall under the heading of “basic human decency.’’ So should getting vaccinated and wearing a mask during a deadly pandemic that has already killed some 615,000 Americans.

In a recent statement, local Republican Party officials said that vaccination mandates meant a loss of freedom. Freedom to do what, exactly? Ensure that the delta variant kills another 615,000, or once again push our hospitals to the breaking point, or guarantee that COVID becomes endemic in our country, like the flu and herpes?

Remember the old aphorism, “Your freedom to swing your arm ends where my nose begins”? With apologies to whoever said it first: Your freedom to spew lethal pathogens ends where I can inhale them.

Public-health issues are not about freedom and should not be politicized. Imagine what life would be like now if millions of Americans had refused the polio vaccine in the 1950s. Google “iron lung’’ for a hint.

Some Republican leaders have compared vaccination mandates and vaccination “passports’’ to the Nazis exterminating 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. When I was a child, you had to provide an immunization record in order to attend public school. When I traveled abroad, I had to get certain shots in order to get into certain countries. This is not a new thing and bears as much resemblance to Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution’’ as the Jan. 6 insurrection bore to a normal tourist day at the Capitol.

Economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman recently analyzed the Republican rhetoric of freedom, in a New York Times column:

“What they actually mean is closer to ‘defense of privilege’ — specifically the right of certain people (generally white male Christians) to do whatever they want,’’ such as Barry Goldwater defending the right of businesses to discriminate against Blacks, “in the name of freedom, of course.’’

Privilege explains why the same conservatives demanding “the right of businesses to make their own decisions, free from regulation (are) quick to stop them from denying service to customers who refuse to wear masks or show proof of vaccination. … Why is the autonomy of local school districts a fundamental principle — unless they want to require masks or teach America’s racial history? It’s all about whose privilege is being protected.’’

“The reality of what the right means by freedom … explains the special rage induced by rules that impose some slight inconvenience in the name of the public interest,’’ Krugman wrote. “After all, only poor people and minority groups are supposed to be asked to make sacrifices.’’

And follow the rules.

The white Missouri couple who plead guilty to gun crimes became right-wing folk heroes for pointing weapons at peaceful Black Lives Matter marchers, and won a governor’s pardon. The white Wisconsin 17-year old who blasted three protesters with an AK-47 became a militia darling.

To Republicans who claim that mask mandates and life-saving vaccines impinge on their freedoms, I say that not doing those things impinges on my freedom to stay alive. All we need to do as a society is follow simple precautions so that all of us can live freely.

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