The Riverside Hotel ballroom in Boise burst at the seams Thursday night as more than 600 supporters of the Idaho Freedom Foundation joined in the organization's third annual Idaho Freedom Celebration and Banquet. This nearly doubled attendance from last year's event, with the capacity crowd turning out in record numbers to see the event's keynote speakers, author and news commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano and Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot.
Executive Director Wayne Hoffman introduced the evening with an explanation that the foundation's mission statement serves as a reminder that liberty and free enterprise are the engine that actually best improves the lives of people from all social strata.
"We need to regain the ground that Milton Friedman established a long time ago, that there is no force on earth that compares to the free market to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, and anyone throughout the world," Hoffman said. "So, 'Restoring liberty, improving lives'—that is what this organization is all about. And if there is any place in the world where we can prove that, it is in the great state of Idaho. What we do next will be historic. The very fate of our country—the meaning of freedom—is in our hands, no one else's. We own this battle. Ten years from now, we will be asked what we did to save the country. Did we do everything humanly possible to protect our children and grandchildren from the albatross of massive government debt, from high taxes, from government social engineering? Did we take every single step to keep the boot of government off of our necks and their necks, telling us what to buy, where to live and how to live?"
Napolitano, whose honorarium was donated by the Ralph Smeed Foundation, provided an engaging address, recounting stories from early U.S. history that illustrate how the ideals of liberty can be quickly and easily betrayed by those who should be their fiercest defenders.
"That principal that our rights come from our humanity, and our humanity is a gift from God, is the underlying principle—the linchpin—without which there would be no United States of America, as we have understood it," Napolitano said.
Still, although this belief was central to the Founding Fathers rebelling against the tyranny of a king who authorized his soldiers to write their own search warrants, Napolitano elaborated, and ultimately they drafted a Constitution that they intended to serve as a substantial check on government power, within a matter of years many of the same people had passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which forbade citizens from criticizing elected officials. James Madison, author of the Constitution, still later authorized the nation's first treason prosecution against a man who released prisoners to save his town of Upper Marlboro, Md., from the threat of being burned down by a British general. Although Madison's attorney general argued against conviction, and the judge and jury agreed, Napolitano pointed out how tenuous a commitment to freedom can be once its former advocates hold political power.
Then, more than a decade ago, Napolitano argued, the passage of the Patriot Act in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks embodied one of the most naked betrayals of America's founding principles.
"The Patriot Act is the most anti-American, abominable, hateful piece of legislation enacted by the Congress since the Alien and Sedition Acts," Napolitano said. "Because the Patriot Act brings us full-circle, by authorizing federal agents to write their own search warrants. The same thing that the king did to intimidate the colonists under the Stamp Act. The same thing that was the last straw for which we fought a bloody revolution." He continued, "So my favorite governor is your governor, Butch Otter, because he opposed the Patriot Act."
VanderSloot, who has often courted political controversy and gained nationwide attention after being publicly named to President Barack Obama's enemies list and refusing to back down, received the foundation's Patriot Award. He focused most of his speech on the value of free markets, comparing the vibrant prosperity of nations with relatively free economies to drab, squalid and repressive planned economies like East Germany and Cuba.
"You destroy free enterprise, you destroy the nation," VanderSloot said. "Who would have dreamed that in America, where we experimented with a new system of freedom and, yes, free enterprise—a very big part of that system—who would have dreamed that in America, in the year 2012, free enterprise would become a dirty word?"
Nampa real estate agent Don Brandt, who owns Brandt Agency in Nampa, received the foundation's Ralph Smeed Lifetime Achievement Award for his substantial contributions to the cause of freedom for many years. Henry and Ida Busse of Caldwell received the Pioneer Award for their tireless work over several decades as watchdogs of Caldwell city government. Reps. Grant Burgoyne and John Vander Woude received the Public Policy Innovation Award for spearheading bipartisan legislation that would prevent the Idaho Department of Lands from owning business enterprises in competition with the private sector. Four legislators also received the Champion of Freedom Award for topping the foundation's 2012 Freedom Index: Sen. Monty Pearce, Rep. Bob Nonini, Rep. Cliff Bayer and Sen. Steve Vick.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.