Four years ago, I sat in a Wisconsin courtroom for a hearing I was certain would land raw-milk farmer Vernon Hershberger in jail. I wasn’t alone in that belief—more than 100 of his supporters sat in that courtroom as well. We had agreed among ourselves beforehand that if Hershberger was sent to jail, we weren’t leaving unless and until we were arrested.
As it turned out, through a complicated series of maneuvers, Hershberger convinced the judge not to jail him, and his supporters didn’t have to follow through with the sit-in.
Why were we prepared to face jail on behalf of a farmer most of us had little in common with? We were mostly urban, college educated, and non-farmers, while Hershberger was raised as an Amish farmer with limited formal education, and different religious customs.
I can’t speak for others in that courtroom, but I know why I was willing to put myself on the line: To me, food freedom, the right to buy the foods of our choice, and for farmers to provide those foods, is a basic human right. It’s a right as fundamental as religious freedom, press freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.
It’s not a right a farmer loses if he’s “a liberal” or “a libertarian”, or if he is friends with foreigners from Iran, or if he inadvertently sold you a half gallon when you asked for a gallon of milk. In other words, there are no excuses to deny him, or us, our food freedom.
I bring this up because I have been watching as people I know who are serious supporters of food freedom, now show much less seriousness about protecting other basic human rights. This isn’t about who won or lost the election. And it isn’t idle speculation, given the threats being made on a number of our basic rights. Some reasons I worry that food freedom supporters are selective in the rights they’ll push to uphold:
— When I express concern about infringements on freedom of the press because the President threatens to severely punish journalists via tough libel laws, or scapegoats journalists as “the most dishonest human beings on earth,” any number of food rights supporters say journalists deserve punishment because some of their reporting has been inaccurate, or the journalists seemed biased. Yet the Constitution’s First Amendment provides for no exceptions.
— When millions of women used their freedom of assembly recently to gather in huge numbers in Washington and other cities, any number of food freedom supporters were all over them. These food freedom supporters were aghast because some of the speakers said disgusting things. They thought some of the demonstrators carried signs with messages inappropriate for children. These food rights supporters said the women shouldn’t have been out there demonstrating, they should have been home with their families. Yet the First Amendment’s freedom of assembly provision provides for no such exceptions, and over the years, Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, communists, and others have assembled and demonstrated on American streets based on its provisions.
— Now that our government is singling out Muslims for exclusion from immigration, the same thing is happening. Any number of food freedom supporters are backing the exclusion, despite the ban in our Constitution of religious tests, and discrimination based on religion and race.
Over the last few weeks, several bloggers here have told me, publicly and privately, that I should limit myself to writing about raw milk and other food freedom matters, and leave “the politics” alone. They seem to be saying I should just pipe up when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to make raw milk cheese illegal. Or just speak up when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control tries to blame a raw dairy farmer for questionable illnesses.
On that last point, I and others are still working to help that farmer, Amos Miller, who is involved in a complicated and tedious court case brought by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are making progress.
But I can tell you that his food freedom, our food freedom, is contingent on these other rights. Journalists like myself can only report on his case if we are free to write the truth. No exceptions. The farmer needs to be able to call for public demonstrations on his behalf, if the circumstances call for it. People at that demonstration need to be able to speak out as they see fit, even if the comments might make some people uncomfortable. He needs to know that his religion isn’t a source of bias against him by the judicial and regulatory system.
It seems clear we are entering a period when basic human rights will be tested. My view is they come together as a package. We can’t allow some and not others. We can’t allow them to apply to some people and not to others.
This poem, by Pastor Martin Niemoller, growing out of the Nazi terror, explains better than I can why it’s so important we stand together in defense of our basic human rights, regardless of other disagreements we might have about politics:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.