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Twas the night before Christmas, and all over the world
SFLers were stirring, both young and old.
They knew that they had no time to pause
For they were fighting for a very good cause.

Their laptops were open, they were snuggled in bed
While visions of freedom danced in their heads.
They knew that Santa couldn’t possibly bring
The thing they were most desiring.

So all night long each did his best
To once and for all put statism to rest.
They filled SFL’s blog with insightful posts
And chatted online from coast to coast.

All year long they worked hard with campus groups,
Planned conferences and webinars and handed out books,
But the fight for liberty cannot take a break
If we want to make the world a freer place.

All SFL wants this holiday season
Is to continue to spread liberty and freedom.
So as Christmas nears and the new year arrives
We ask that you help Students For Liberty thrive.

But no honest and serious-minded man of our day can help seeing the incompatibility of true Christianity—the doctrine of meekness, forgiveness of injuries, and love—with government, with its pomp, acts of violence, executions, and wars. The profession of true Christianity not only excludes the possibility of recognizing government, but even destroys its very foundations. -Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You

In the small town of Pitman, NJ a battle is raging.  A banner reading “Keep Christ in Christmas” hangs from two government-owned light posts, and though paid for by the Knights of Columbus, was hung by the town’s fire department.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation has applied pressure and brought media attention to this issue, claiming that it violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Mayor Mike Batten, however, remains committed to preserving the banner, which has been a Pitman Christmas tradition for fifty years.

Stories like this are a perennial part of the Christmas season.  Each year, Christians and non-Christians battle over public displays of religious symbols, what labels to give to trees, and whether you should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Many Christians argue that the Constitution only forbids the government from interfering with religion, and consequently religion should be able to influence the government—an end that they view to be desirable.  Whether unwittingly or not, this worldview implies that religion’s importance is tied to whether or not the government recognizes Christmas in some way, and that public recognition lends validity and legitimacy to the religious foundation of the holiday.

But just what is the nature of the state?  Fundamentally, it is an organization that holds a monopoly on the initiation of force and coercion.  Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy believed that the essence of government was the direct antithesis of Christian principles and wanted to see “the mist, which veils from men’s eyes the true meaning of certain acts of violence, pass away.”  To Tolstoy, it was essential that Christians knew the true heart of the state.

More specifically, Christians should think about how the US government is inept at just about everything it does. The post office is bankrupt, public schools are failing, the TSA accosts people at the airports, the Federal Reserve System debases our currency, bombs drop daily on villages and towns in several countries in our name with our tax dollars, peaceful protesters are pepper sprayed and beat by the police without provocation—the litany of charges against the US government, against all governments,  is nearly inexhaustible. Why in Jesus’ name would anyone want to involve this entity with Christmas? What is the urge to have the most violent institution in humanity’s history recognize the birthday of the Prince of Peace?

The premises of the “keep Christ in Christmas” movement are flawed, and reveal how inherently biased and statist general thinking has become.  Christ does not need to be “kept” in Christmas. Indeed, He’s never left it because Christ has always been welcome in the private sphere. For every courthouse nativity scene that becomes a local battle in the culture war, there are probably dozens more in that very same town on the lawns of private property, houses and churches alike. The companies that rent space on billboards undoubtedly would allow any private citizen or association to display the name of Christ for as long as wanted—for the right price, of course. Sovereign individuals have freedom of speech. For example, you can tell everyone you meet “merry Christmas” with a smile if you so choose, for your words are not subject to the establishment clause. Neither private entities nor markets are subject to the establishment clause. Only the government is, and for good reason.

The establishment clause of the First Amendment was not ratified out of a desire for a purely secular government on the part of the Framers, even though one could argue that secular government is a desirable end in itself.  Rather, the historical intent of the clause was also to protect the integrity of religion from the negative influence of the state. To keep the private sphere private. To leave unshackled the thoughts and conscience of man, for as James Madison wrote “conscience is the most sacred of all property.” Madison also believed that “religion flourishes in greater purity without than with the aid of government.”

Why then do some clamor to have the government intrude upon the private domain—upon the conscience—every December? Wouldn’t the celebration of Christmas be better maintained through the free market? “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” can only come through voluntary interaction, not the aggression that is at the heart of the coercive nature of the state. Those who truly believe in Christmas and all the good and hope that the season is supposed to represent must stop looking to the most criminal, immoral, and inhumane institution that has ever existed among men to give them legitimacy and recognize this holiday. The only effective way to keep Christ in Christmas is to kick the government out.

Natasha is a senior at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Campus Coordinator at Students For Liberty.  In Natasha’s words, working as a Campus Coordinator for Students For Liberty has been a life-changing experience for her.  This holiday season, you can help SFL give the gift of liberty to other students across the world by making a donation at www.givethegiftofliberty.org.  This is Natasha’s story:

My quest for liberty really started when I was a toddler.  I lived in Juneau, Alaska and was often stricken with boredom which forced me to be particularly creative in my activities.  The climate was rainy and wet in Juneau, so there was a thriving worm population in my front yard.  I was extremely sympathetic towards the worms; I couldn’t imagine a more miserable existence than squirming around underground in the wet and cold darkness.  Being the benevolent little child I was, I took it upon myself to improve the lives of these worms.  I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting for them than to ride around on the back of my tricycle, I kept telling myself how lucky these select worms were.   I dug up about 10 of them and put them on the back of my tricycle and blasted around the block a few times, then stopped to check on my worms.  They were all dead.

I had no idea what was going on, so I repeated the process with new worms (I figured all of these ones must have been sick or something).  This time when I stopped to check on them, they had all died again.  I realized at that moment, that the worms were not sick, but that I had killed them.   I was mortified.  I was trying to improve the lives of these worms, but despite my good intentions, I had ended their lives altogether.  I learned an important life lesson: good intentions do not always produce good results.  As I grew older I realized this lesson was equally applicable to the government.  Just as I could not determine the needs and wants of the worms as well as they could themselves, the government cannot determine the needs and desires of its people as well as they can themselves.

Philosophically I have been libertarian since that experience, but did not discover libertarianism until I was sixteen.  I was wandering around a college campus in Anchorage, and a few students handed me a libertarian party packet.  At first I veered away trying to avoid their propaganda, but was unable to escape without a pamphlet in my hand.  I read the headline “libertarianism” and thought to myself, “libertarianism? What is that? Some sort of super liberal socialists?”, as I was searching for a trash can I opened up the packet and realized all of the platforms of libertarianism were aligned perfectly with my own beliefs.  After feeling isolated in my opinions my entire life, I was ecstatic to learn there was a group of people who thought like me.

When I went off to college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign I immediately started searching for a libertarian group to become involved with.  I continued this search for a couple of years, and eventually realized there was not an active group and took it upon myself to start one.  I wish I had known at that time that Students For Liberty had existed.  I didn’t know a single other liberty-minded individual on campus, and was only able to find a few by reaching out to an adult libertarian group that met off campus.  I started the bureaucratic process of creating a student group, and through networking eventually found some other students. I didn’t know I had had access to a network of other pro-liberty individuals through SFL.   It was a very slow start, and if I had the support of Students For Liberty at that time, I know we would have been able to grow much faster and reach out to many more students.

After I started working with a fellow Campus Coordinator for SFL- Chris Eager- we have been able to quadruple the size and scope of our campus group.  Members from our school and other schools in the state of Illinois were able to meet other libertarian students in the region at the Chicago Regional Conference this last October.  The fellowship SFL has provided student groups in the State has increased the passion and involvement of every student who has attended SFL events or joined SFL’s network.

A donation to Students For Liberty will allow other students to spread the message of liberty without going through the painstaking process I did.  This holiday season you have the opportunity to give the priceless gift of liberty to other students.

The following is a guest submission by Keith Farrell, student president of the University of Connecticut’s Torrington Campus and founder of the Spirits of ’76, a “non-profit organization dedicated to spreading liberty by inspiring involvement in community and volunteerism”:

Norway is facing a crisis that may threaten its holiday cheer.  News has spread this week of the urgent situation in Norway where the country faces a butter shortage.  Yes, butter.  While the media has spent plenty of time talking about the shortage, one topic that has been suspiciously missing from any coverage I saw was discussion about the causes of the shortage.  The only fleetingly cited causes were the monopolistic practices of Norway’s butter-giant, Tine, and Norwegians’ low-carb diet.

Butter line in Oslo

Not long ago, before I had the benefit of studying Austrian economics, I wouldn’t have given the story much more thought.  I would have, presumably, listened to the media and agreed that an evil, greedy corporation was to blame for stifling the people of Norway’s holiday cheer by depriving them of a key ingredient for seasonal goods.  I wouldn’t have wondered about the conditions that caused the monopoly to develop in Norway, nor would I had thought how government regulations contributed to the situation.  I, like many, tended to shirk away from economics, viewing it as complex formulas and mathematical equations I could never grasp.  All I knew was what I was taught in school and reinforced by the media:  free markets would always lead to monopolies, thus we need governments to make things fair and ensure evil companies like Tine don’t ruin people’s holidays.  Through studying Austrian economics, I have gained such a solid and more in-depth understanding of the world around me.

Now, upon hearing of a butter shortage in Norway, my spotlight saw right through the fog.  I didn’t have all the details yet, but the distinct stench of unintended consequences caused by government intervention was unmistakable.  I couldn’t depend on the media to tell me more.  I would have to dig deeper if I wished to understand the root causes.  Several questions popped up in my mind.  Why only butter?  What about other dairy products?  And how could a country that is surrounded by agricultural nations run out of something as fundamental as butter?  Couldn’t they just buy some from Sweden or Denmark?

Norway’s economy is a mixed economy, with the state controlling key industries such as petroleum.  Its socialistic reforms since World War II have caused the nation to pride itself on its public assistance to its citizens.  Heavily subsidized health care is delivered to Norwegians for little or no cost to them directly.  A government guaranteed minimum pension and unemployment insurance are just some of the other benefits Norway offers to its citizens. Norwegians also enjoy pretty high wages. While this all may sound lovely, we must remember that somehow these things need to be paid for.

As a result, Norway is one of the most expensive countries to live in on Earth.  Protectionist policies and taxes limiting free trade have added to their woes.  With their high cost of operation and employment caused by excessive taxation, regulation, and abnormally high wages, Norway simply cannot compete with its neighbors.  To address this problem, tariffs and import restrictions are designed to shield Norwegian industries from competition.  This has plenty of unintended consequences.

Austrian economists will be the first to tell you that odious government regulation may lead to monopolization.  The logic is easy to follow.  When regulation and taxation becomes overly complex, only bigger companies can thrive.  While bigger companies may hire lawyers and specialists whose entire job is to make sure their company is compliant with the rules and regulations of the state, small companies simply do not have the time or money to hire the personnel needed to interpret and comply with the system of complex regulation.  Government intervention in this manner often has the exact opposite result as is intended, creating a system that favors bigger over smaller, perverts competition, and leads to the consolidation of industries under the control of corporate giants.

Norway’s butter industry is a perfect example.  One corporate entity, Tine, controls most of the butter in Norway.  It is a cooperative of Norwegian farmers which has enjoyed, largely due to government regulations, monopolistic operations with little to no competition.  Interventionists in Europe are quickly calling for the government of Norway to break up Tine into smaller companies, rather than open up the markets to outside competition.  However, Norway cannot allow free trade if it wishes to continue with its centrally planned mixed economy.  The cost of maintaining their programs and wages is too high and their industries would not be able to withstand competition.

Thanks to my knowledge of Austrian economics, I was able to see the root of this problem.  While the government of Norway may point the blame at Tine, there can be no mistake about it:  it is their regulations, protectionism and central planning which caused this problem, and any fault Tine does share is negated by the fact that the government’s policies are what led to Tine’s monopoly.

Need a lesson on how competition, free markets and public choice lead to a more plentiful market and more prosperous society rather than centrally planned and managed economies?  Go to your local super market and head over to the dairy section.  Go ahead, take a moment and marvel.  We have hundreds of butter companies to choose from. We have whipped butter, spray butter, salted butter, generic brands and big name brands, butter designed for baking, butter for spreading etc.  If Land O’Lakes ran into a butter shortage we could just buy from one of their many competitors.  In the centrally planned economy of Norway, a country full of dairy farmers, has no butter.  So remember when you are enjoying your favorite holiday foods how something as common as butter is taken for granted here in America thanks to free markets!

Are you a student who would like to contribute a guest submission to Students For Liberty’s blog? If interested, please email Blog Content Manager Casey Given at cgiven@studentsforliberty.org.

The Cal Berkeley SfL, 2011 Group of the Year.

One of the highlights of the International Students For Liberty Conference is the Annual Awards Presentation.  In 2009, Students For Liberty began to recognize outstanding students and student groups that have distinguished themselves in the battle for liberty on campus.That tradition has continued with the awards becoming more competitive every year as more and more students demonstrate their outstanding accomplishments for liberty.  Award recipients are chosen based on their hard work, organizational skills, value creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  You can find information on past winners herehere, and here.

This year, SFL will present awards for Student of the Year, Event of the Year, and Student Group of the Year.  The awards presented at the International Conference on Friday, February 17th.

The nomination process is open to all students and alumni, and yes, students are encouraged to nominate themselves.  The time frame under consideration is from January 2011 up to the present.  Nominations should be as descriptive as possible and show how the student/event/group created value for liberty.  Submitting pictures and other documentation is encouraged.

Click here to learn more and nominate a student, event, or group today!