In 1997, as in previous years, The Supreme Council, 33, is pleased to sponsor the Scottish Rite Paul R. Kach DeMolay Essay Contest. The nationwide contest is divided into eight regional competitions and has two grade levels: 10th grade and below, 11th grade and above. Each regional winner receives a check for $300. Each national winner receives an additional $1,200. The 1996-1997 Grand Prize Essays in both grade categories are presented, edited for length, in this issue of the Scottish Rite Journal.

Two national prize-winning essays by DeMolays discuss where to draw the line between public safety and freedom.

Mark J. Rosta
Scottish Rite Paul R. Kach, 33, DeMolay Essay Competition, 10th Grade And Below Category

Mark J. Rosta (l.), Grand Prize Winner, 1997 Scottish Rite Paul R. Kach, 33, DeMolay Essay Competition, 10th grade and below category, was honored to receive this high award from Brother E. John Elmore, 32, Grand Master, Order of DeMolay, on May 28, 1997, at the New Jersey DeMolay’s Grand Master’s Class.

As the safety of future generations hung in the balance, our forefathers resolved to rebel against the British king in order to ensure that those who came after them would be free men. A newly found sense of independence was acquired by the wealthy and reigning political leaders when the Constitution was drafted. However, it gave only the powerful a greater distance from the tyrannous king’s rule. The average individual still lacked a true sense of what it was like to be free. Later, the first ten amendments of the Constitution, which became known as the Bill of Rights, successfully fulfilled every person’s yearning for security and freedom. Here in bold and absolute terms are set forth the fundamental supports of a free society. Because our Founding Fathers chose this path of brave resistance, today all Americans are granted the greatest privilege known to man, freedom.

More than two centuries have passed, and most Americans have become disassociated from the purposes of our Founding Fathers to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The government must now uphold these bulwarks of society while producing safety guidelines for the betterment of the individual and the common good of all.

Fortunately, the general population is composed of law-abiding citizens. Yet attention is constantly focused on those who continue to attempt to twist, bend, and stretch our laws, ultimately crossing the line which infringes on the safety of others. The one defining feature all lines, whether physical or metamorphic, have in common is that things are different on each side. Lines can unite us or divide us; they can elevate us or shrink us. Whether made of stone or time, they can shut out or protect us. The line which our country has laid out for the public’s common interest separates the law-abiding citizens from the lawbreakers.

Because there are two sides to the line, there is obviously a way from getting from one to the other. By breaking the law you become a lawbreaker, hence the term. There are presently laws against terrorist acts, drug possession, illegal search and seizure, confiscation of property, theft, rape, breaking and entering, and many, many more offenses.

Our contemporary environment’s feeling of discomfort is spawned by the attempt of others to deprive us of our freedoms. This abuse increases fear and the lack of safety in people’s everyday lives. By trying to change the world’s standards to their own narrow, selfish way of thinking, lawbreakers jeopardize the public’s safety and, usually, someone gets hurt.

Every individual should have the freedom and right to conduct business, travel, and move about without feeling in danger. But how can we guarantee a true sense of security? It is certainly of no comfort realizing crime and violence has been around for centuries. Also, there are currently laws against listening to people’s phone conversations and having security cameras in houses. They are seen as invasions of privacy. Should people as a majority influence their government leaders into making these invasions of privacy constitutional? We as a society might be safer if these measures were allowed because we could find out who is constructing bombs in their basement, loading their trucks with dynamite in order to blow up public buildings, and growing marijuana in their own backyard to damage the healthy minds of our country’s youth. This would definitely strengthen our safety. But, how much freedom would you relinquish to guarantee your, your country’s, your family’s, your friends, and even your neighbor’s safety?

Since the line which the government has drawn has been previously crossed, government officials and representatives should implement more effective laws. What is to say that a greater line cannot be crossed by criminals? No one can absolutely say for sure. The integrity of the justice system is under attack. Therefore, it is my opinion that we must find additional routes to ensuring safety while keeping our deserved freedoms. Our actions must inspire our collective commitment to true human progress.

Where do we draw the line? We draw it here and now. Amend our laws so criminals can’t find loopholes to escape punishment. Reconfigure the judicial system with impartial jurors who cannot become biased by the media. Educate the people, especially the next generation of children, to have a strong voice in support of human dignity. Each of us must accept the responsibilities the laws place on every citizen. Violence shouldn’t occur. Although it may seem like an overwhelming undertaking, we must take action now. Help bridge the gap to mankind’s ultimate moral goal. Possess the gift of freedom in the name of safety.

Damien B. Chacona
Scottish Rite Paul R. Kach, 33, DeMolay Essay Competition, 11th Grade And Above

Damien B. Chacona

Frequently, life presents us with clear-cut choices. All one needs to address the choice between good and evil is a strong moral compass and the strength of character to act upon that choice. Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. Often, life poses choices between two virtues. It places us in a dilemma where we must weigh benefits and determine a course, while minimizing the potential abuse of “too much of a good thing.”

Finding such a course is difficult due to the fact that good, but contrasting, concepts may be proposed by well-meaning persons with the best of intentions. How, then, are such choices to be made? Or, more appropriately, where is the line to be drawn which allows us the greatest benefit of each value without overwhelming and destroying either?

Certainly there are a few concepts more virtuous than freedom and safety. Taken individually, one would be hard-pressed to mount logical arguments against them. When placed in opposition, however, a conflict develops which shows the potential that each has for limiting the other. It is that dilemma, the need to choose a balance point between two worthy concepts, which is an example of the many, hard decisions we all must face. As with many of life’s difficult choices, we must look to the past for inspiration, experience, and wisdom and then apply those resources to the future in which we all must live.

As is often said, “The freedom to swing your fist ends at your neighbor’s nose.” That deceptively simple saying bears much meaning when deciding the limitations of freedom. It says that one is free to act as one will as long as another is not hurt by those actions. Even that broad, logical guideline restricts freedom in the name of safety.

Similarly, democracy itself is based upon the concepts of the “greatest good for the greatest number” and “the majority ruling, but still protecting the minority.” Clearly, our Founding Fathers realized compromises needed to be made in order to preserve that delicate balance between individual and group rights, of which the conflict between freedom and safety is an example.

There are several topical issues which are excellent examples of a line needing to be drawn in order to achieve both the greatest amount of safety and freedom, without either unduly infringing upon the other. The control of firearms is an issue constantly debated at individual, local, and national levels. It is a classic case in terms of the need to moderate freedom and safety because, should either overwhelm the other, chaos would result.

The total freedom to possess and use firearms could be carried to the extreme where toddlers are amusing themselves with automatic weapons and suburban lawns are littered with military ordinance. Obviously, very few people, and no one in their right mind, would feel safe in such a totally free state. Similarly, the total elimination of guns in the name of absolute caution would infringe upon those with the need, interest, and expertise to use weapons safely. Law enforcement agencies, the military, competent sportsmen, and legitimate users of firearms would have their freedom stripped and their ability to carry out their duties and daily lives severely limited.

Furthermore, in such a “totally safe” society, guns and the ability to make them would have to be completely eliminated. Otherwise, it would only be a matter of a very short time before those with less than honorable motives would find the means to secure firearms.

Another current debate which contains the freedom-versus-safety controversy involves the use of tobacco. Obviously, lines have already been drawn which tend to limit the freedom of tobacco users in terms of age, location, and the availability of the product and its advertising. Although this has been done in the name of protecting the safety of the non-smoker and minors, it has had the effect of restricting the freedom of the individual. The question is, has the greater good been served by limiting a person’s ability to derive pleasure from an activity which may harm his own health? The answer is no; the greater good has not been served if you believe that the smoker is only hurting himself.

However, one must consider the dangers of secondhand smoke, the health threat posed by a smoking mother to her unborn child, the increased cost of medical care to all of us as the result of smoking-related diseases, and the enticing of minors to begin smoking. All these factors must be considered when the greater good is determined.

Obviously, a balance must be struck where the needs of the society and those of the individuals which comprise it can both be accommodated. In striking such a balance, a similar safety-versus-freedom conflict arises. It is the essential conflict between the “freedom” of every individual to live totally free and the “safety” provided by even a benevolent but totalitarian form of government. The answer to this dilemma, in the words of William Shakespeare, “lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

We must realize that we are not merely a large group of individuals who happen to inhabit the same piece of real estate; we are a society. We have individual goals as well as common interests which will always occasionally conflict. We must also realize that our government is not an entity separate from us; it is us. It speaks with our voice. At least it must speak with our voice if it is to retain its founding purpose, to represent its people.

Therefore, as with all universal issues which shape our lives, we return to the basic truths to understand how to deal with them. The line which needs to be drawn between freedom and safety is the same line which needs to be drawn between all areas where two worthy concepts conflict. It is the line where good men and women of high purpose meet to use reason, compassion, and understanding in determining the nature of the lives we will lead.

The names of the following DeMolays, each a 1997 Paul R. Kach Essay Regional Contest Winner, are presented in order of region, the category of 10th grade and below listed first and 11th grade and above listed second. Region I: Jacob Jordan, Windham, ME; Andrew J. Laberge, Sabattus, ME; Region II: Mark J. Rosta, Edison, NJ; Damien B. Chacona, Susquehanna, PA; Region III: None; Eric D. Harvey, Rogersville, AL; Region IV: Christopher S. Van Meter; Lexington, KY; Jeffrey L. Huston, Lyndhurst, OH; Region V: John B. Noble, Burlington, WI; None; Region VI: Skye J. Coleman, Lenexa, KS; Rick A. Wooten, Manhattan, KS; Region VII: Ron Draughon, Salt Lake City; None.