When you're a little kid, you expect your parents and other elders to give you pointers on life look both ways before crossing, don't talk to strangers driving unmarked vans, that sort of thing.
That just doesn't sit well when you grow up, but it seems to bother many conservatives that adults are capable of making their own decisions and value judgments independent of outside guidance.
Witness laws such as those that make sodomy, adultery and other sexual acts illegal incapable of determining for ourselves what we can do in our own bedrooms (or, gasp, other rooms in the house), we need old white men in black suits giving us pointers.
"Don't do that," they say in hushed tones. "That's just wrong."
Under the guise of maintaining societal order, the straight-as-an-arrow legislators were emasculating our rights to freely decide on behavior that wouldn't hurt anyone. (As an added bonus, before the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws last week, gay men were breaking the law by just expressing their love and intimacy in one of the most basic ways essentially by just being themselves.)
Likewise, laws against using drugs are targeting people who should be free to choose their physical and mental state as long as that doesn't hurt other people in society. (That could mean getting hopped up on coke and driving into oncoming traffic, or it could mean hurting your family members because of a destructive addiction, but it most certainly does not mean smoking a doobie every once in a while.)
But rather than erring on the side of personal freedom, some conservatives would grant the government greater powers to watch for such transgressions of illogical laws. Larry Tannahill, a cotton farmer in west Texas, recognized that propensity for invading privacy when his local school district mandated drug testing for all students, one of whom was his son.
Tannahill enlisted the ACLU's help in fighting the policy, which was later overturned by a U.S. District Court as an unreasonable search that violated the Fourth Amendment. But along the way, his friends and neighbors in the town of Lockney ostracized him for standing up for his rights, and Tannahill was even fired from his job and targeted for anonymous threats. A large group of residents attending the local school board meeting also had T-shirts made that proclaimed their support of the drug testing policy.
(While watching a recent PBS documentary on the Lockney case, my dad summed up his distaste for such behavior in only a couple of sentences: "I hate Baptists," he said. "Whenever you meet someone who wants to tell you what to do, run.")
Part of my life has been spent in situations that, far from promoting free choice, encouraged timidity and vacillation in the absence of outside guidance. But each time I have been able to break out of those situations, albeit with a lot of help and encouragement from other people in my life.
Having had to fight for my freedom (not in the physical sense, as our veterans have) gives me a new perspective on life. Those hard-won liberties, borne of adversity and the threat of them disappearing, aren't something I ever want to lose. It's easy to see why colonial Americans were so fervent in their quest for freedom, having tasted the bitterness of repression under the British crown.
The freedom to choose is something that terrifies the faint of heart. Faced with the prospect of the unknown, the other, the different, such people will slink back into the rabbit hole in which they've spent most of their existence.
But that same freedom is one that thrills the bold and open-minded. Given the opportunity to experience something unknown, something different, they will dive headlong into it. Who are the meek and reluctant to tell us not to live that way?
Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.