Freedom is an unearned privilege, and you have it. If you were born here in America you inherited it. It came with your breath and your birth certificate.

That freedom actually wasn’t free though — it was quite costly and someone prepaid it on your behalf. You never met them and you’ll likely never know their names. They paid for your freedom in filthy, putrid trenches decades ago and half a world away. They paid it on blackened beachfronts littered with the blood and body parts of strangers.

They paid it cold and alone on frozen countrysides, in places their bodies still remain. Others paid in churches in Birmingham and on campus squares in Ohio and in streets of Chicago. Generations of Americans sacrificed family and future and body and breath, so that you could be pulled from the birth canal nestled in the warm embrace of the easy liberty you’ve come to believe you deserve.

Which makes it all the more tragic and shameful how little regard you have for that freedom now, how much you’re squandering it over and over because you’ve decided the simplest of requests are too much for you to bear and constitute an assault on your personal liberty: Putting a tiny piece of cloth over your nose and mouth while you’re at the grocery store. Getting a free vaccine that has been carefully researched by people qualified for this very work.

What a stupid, selfish waste of the freedom people paid so dearly for. What a brazen middle finger to those who gave everything. What a squandering of the gift that is this nation you claim to so love.

Your courageous, selfless forebears were asked to fight and die on foreign soil in order to save other American lives — and they did. They braved bombs and bullets to perpetuate this place where liberty resides and you were generously handed. In times of war, people here went without for years, in the cause of the soldiers who were preserving the democracy we were born into. Activists here gave up security and safety for your right to vote and marry and to live unfettered by tyranny.

Today, you’re being asked to simply make the smallest effort to accomplish the same noble task and you can’t manage that. You are interpreting your temporary, tiny, fleeting inconvenience as perpetual and inhumane persecution — that’s how soft and sad we’ve become, how small our battles now are, what we see as worthy causes.

That’s the way freedom works, though. No one gets to tell you how to wield it or what merits your indignation or what is worth your outrage.

But from where I’m standing, you’re making a mockery of the lives of Americans, who in trenches and on beach fronts and countrysides and churches and campuses and street corners, spilled blood and lost limbs and sacrificed life on your behalf. You’re showing stratospheric disregard for other human beings who share this place with you, all in the name of not wanting to be told what to do.

That’s the thing about the “personal freedom” you seem to be missing: it was never supposed to be just about you. It wasn’t purely about independence, it was about interdependence: about loving our neighbor as ourselves, about being our brother’s and sister’s keeper, about caring for one another because we’re all in this together. That’s what the anthems declare and the statues proclaim and the songs ring out.

You’re being asked to wear a mask and get vaccinated, not just for you, but for other Americans: So that vulnerable people aren’t exposed to a virus their bodies likely cannot overcome. So that already exhausted healthcare workers will not be overwhelmed by a continual flood of sick people. So that thousands of unprotected children don’t get sick and disrupt the school year and kill their teachers and bring home a deadly virus to their families. So that we aren’t hit with another tidal wave of sickness and death that we will be unable to come back from.

But if you feel like that’s asking too much of you, go ahead and scream and complain and protest and threaten and beat your chest like you are defending liberty: that’s what someone sacrificed so you could do.

I’m just not sure your politics and your preferences are hills worth them dying on. I think you may be wasting your personal freedom. I think it’s getting people killed. That may be a you problem.

John Pavlovitz

Jеff Dеаn, Mаrk Mаkеlа, and Rаul Rоа

The original version of this Op Ed was published on

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

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