Freedom House Has a Beam in its Eye

Carol Iannone

I’ve always set great store on Freedom House, which does a yearly survey of how all the countries of the world are doing with respect to a set of measures of democratic process and of civil and political rights. They publish a report on each country and produce a very useful map of the world with countries illustrated by color as Free, Partly Free, and Not Free.  
 
I still do value their work enormously, but am a little disturbed by their 2017 report on the US, which they say has declined a bit in some measures of democratic functioning. The US gets an overall score of 89, as opposed to Australia 98, Canada 99, and the UK 95. 
 
The report on the U.S. does state that the country is a great overall success in democracy, but adds that "in recent years the country’s democratic institutions have suffered some erosion, as reflected in legislative gridlock, dysfunction in the criminal justice system, and growing disparities in wealth and economic opportunity.”
 
These things may indeed deserve attention, but what about the issues that very much concern NAS, FIRE, the Becket Fund, and other organizations, and that seem to bear very hardly and directly on the exercise of civil rights? 
 
The Freedom House report does not seem that concerned about these. For example, the paragraph on the campus begins--are you sitting down--"The academic sphere features a substantial level of intellectual freedom.” If you’ve recovered from that, you will be glad to know that they do take note of recent campus upheavals but hardly in a way that approaches the seriousness of what is happening:
 
In one potential threat to freedom of expression on campus, university officials have been criticized for giving in to pressure from student activist groups that object to speakers who have been invited to campus events. Speakers have regularly been disinvited or decided to withdraw from appearances after protests were launched. Students have also mounted protests over issues related to gender, race, ethnicity, and other identity categories, sometimes demanding changes to teaching and hiring practices.
 
On religious freedom, they write rather blandly:
 
The United States has a long tradition of religious freedom. The constitution protects the free exercise of religion while barring any official endorsement of a religious faith, and there are no direct government subsidies to houses of worship. The debate over the role of religion in public life is ongoing, however, and religious groups often mobilize to influence political discussions on the diverse issues in which they take an interest. The Supreme Court regularly adjudicates difficult cases involving the relationship between church and state.
 
That’s it! But if the United States is going to get a score ten points lower than Canada, I think it should at least be for recent PC- inspired infringements on freedom of religion and freedom of speech--along with its corollaries, academic and intellectual freedom-- as much as for growing disparities of wealth. 

Image Credit: Public Domain.

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