The Freedom to Associate with Any Person(s)

The actions of authority provide a helpful reminder that its citizenry have rights and freedoms. When the citizenry readily surrender their rights and freedoms without scrutiny it becomes possible for any authority to abuse their powers and ignore proper process. Fitzgerald v Muldoon and the Baigent’s case are prime examples of authority abusing their power and ignoring proper process. When the citizenry surrenders their rights and freedoms it becomesdifficult to claim those rights and freedoms back. There is an old proverb that says “you do not miss something until it is gone”. That proverb rang true during the COVID-19 lockdown period — or, home detention. This article concerns freedom and what was missed while in isolation from people, work, and other activities. Every freedom is important, but what is freedom without people and a common bond? Based on a poll from the UCSA Noticeboard, 116 people voted that the freedom to associate with any person is the most important freedom to value. Education came in second place with 55 votes from people. Financial freedom received only two votes from people, therefore it seems money is not the most important freedom to hold. Thus, the freedom to associate with any person won the poll.  

Freedom includes happiness and peace. Before law school, I shared a few lagers and a conversation with my father on the porch. My father asked me, “What do you want out of life?”. My response came after the second sip; “To become a millionaire, to have purpose, to help others”. In this point of my life, I would have casted a vote in favour of financial freedom or money. My father then provided me with a book on faith and becoming a millionaire. I set myself a goal to achieve financial freedom by learning from the wealthiest investors, such as Warren Buffett and Eli Broad. This freedom lacks happiness and peace. Firstly, the probability that a person will have disingenuous people in thier life is high. Secondly, money is the cause of many relationship breakdowns, legal disputes, and more debt. Thirdly, the only certainty that money provides is that it never stays in the wallet for long. Therefore, a person is not happy or peaceful with money.  

If freedom includes happiness and peace, then what did I miss during the lockdown period? When the goal to have financial freedom was penned in my journal, I listed a number of other matters that provided happiness and peace in my life, and one of those matters was education and university. The opportunity to spend time with people similar and dissimilar to myself, and to learn from them was one of the best experiences in my life. The opportunity to know my mother and her culture was limited. When I began my studies at university, it was important to find people who came from the same place as my mother and to learn her language. Her story was also mine. Therefore, the freedom to associate with any person whenever, without reason, limits, details, persecution, and prosecution is an important freedom to value and to hold. A person will lose money, but a person will never lose the company of people who genuinely care about them.  

Section 17 of the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that everyone has the right to freedom of association. Freedom of association is where individuals can come together to share, to voice, to promote, and pursue a common bond. It is within my professor’s lifetime that it was not socially acceptable nor lawful for a group of people to associate with any person. The US Supreme Court in Brown v Board of Education (1954) states that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. This case highlights the point that for a long time it was unacceptable and unlawful for African Americans to mix and interact with white-Americans on the bus and in school. Another example is the case of Emmett Till (1955), an African-American teenager, who was tortured and murdered for allegedly interacting with a white-American woman.  

It is unfair and cruel that the relatives of a dying person could not say goodbye to their loved one, or hold them one last time during this pandemic. It is moment ripped from them, which is lost forever and a moment that they cannot relive again.  

It is a cold world when a person who was not brought up by their biological parents, or who was not brought up in their homeland, cannot have the freedom to associate with the person that can tell them about their parents, culture, history, country, and language. It is an uncaring world when a family member who is separated from a relative cannot associate with the relative who can take them to a rugby game.  

The world is monochrome when it denies two people a kiss because of their sexuality, ethnicity, faith, politics, education, income, and their background.  

There was a time when New Zealand law prosecuted and convicted males for engaging in intimate and loving relationships with other males. As progressive as our society is, there are still pockets of people in this society that continue to persecute the LGBTQI community and deny them the right to thrive in mainstream society. There are still people, including people in power, who would prefer that each type of person would stay in their box and that any “undesirable” type of person would never aspire to anything more than minimum wage. When a person loses their freedom to associate with another person then the Earth is indeed flat. The Earth is boring and sleepy without continual and diverse interchange of music, theatre, food, romance, politics, faith, humour, ideas, and conversation with another person.  

Level 4 is akin to home detention and Level 2 is akin to parole with electronic monitoring. The activity that I missed the most during lockdown was the planned and impulsive meetings with friends and acquaintances over a meal and a drink in town. There is magic when you sit down at a table with a range of familiar and new people, and share a meal and drink together. The external features may put in miles of roads and walls between people, but bringing out the internal features and interests makes the world smaller, warmer, and closer.  

I enjoy finding connections, coincidences, and similar interests among people who have never met each other before, such as theatre, politics, faith, ethnic background, environmentalism, vegetarianism, travel plans, mutual friends, postgraduate studies, and course subjects. Basically, I apply the idea of six degrees of separation to these shared meals. Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six social connections away from each other. It is a conversation and a bridge builder. No person is a stranger by the end of the evening. Every person at the table is equal, free, and able to share their ideas and friendship with the next person without reason, limits, or fear. The shared meals are about community and valuing people.  

I have this strong need to find the person who has become vulnerable, marginalised, ignored, or persecuted and isolated in society and bring them back into its fold. The purpose of the shared meals is to live in a world without borders, tear gas, ignorance, and hate. If these meals were a song it would be a hip-hop remix of two songs: “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and “Imagine” by John Lennon. It is about breaking out of that internal prison and adding a personal signature and colour to the world with other people. I imagine that would be a wonderful world indeed.  

The freedom to associate with any person whenever, without reason, limits, details, persecution or prosecution is an important freedom that I keep close to the heart. Education, knowledge, and the economy all benefit when people are mixing and conversing with different groups of people. The financial position improves when people are willing to negotiate and compromise with other groups of people. A person’s faith and political views improve when they are mixing with other people. A person knows that they are valued and respected when there are a team of people signing their praises in full voice. A person has the opportunity to know the history and the culture of their family and their place when they have the freedom to associate with any person. To deny a person the right to associate with any person leads to heartbreak and to plain horizons.  

The freedom to associate with any person is like a mother holding her baby for the first time — precious, joyful, free, and unconditional. A person’s quality of life is happier and peaceful when they have someone to turn to for support and communication. Activities with family and friends make the days warmer and shorter. That is freedom. 

By Raymond Ellwood