As a lifelong citizen of the United States, I'm accustomed to hearing that the US is the "Land of the Free" and most patriotic celebrations seem to emphasize freedom as one of the unique qualities of life here. However, all of the American freedoms I'm aware of--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.--seem to be found throughout much of Western civilization. Are there any freedoms that are unique to either the United States or the North American continent?
The Third Amendment to the United States Constitution is a pretty good candidate:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The word "quartered" in this context means "giving a place to stay" (i.e. room and board), most likely at the owner's expense. So the Third Amendment guarantees the freedom to not have the government send peacetime soldiers to live in your house without your consent, nor wartime soldiers to live in your house unless an explicit law says otherwise.
I imagine this right is effectively in place in many other countries, but without the prominence of being explicitly enumerated in their constitutions.
The Right to Bear Arms is found in only three nations: the USA, Mexico, and Guatemala.
While other countries allow their citizens to own firearms, they have no constitutional backing if the governments decide they can no longer allow this.
Please note that the USA labeling itself as the "Land of the Free" is not a recent phenomena, but as old as the country itself. Back in that time most of the rest of the world was composed of absolutist monarchies.
A freedom which is exceptionally strongly protected in the USA is the freedom of speech, guaranteed by the first amendment to the constitution. In the USA you can freely express your opinion, and cannot be held criminally liable for merely stating an opinion, no matter how offensive some people or groups of people might find that opinion. Of course, this does not protect you from all consequences, like people less likely wanting to be friends with you or hire you or buying your products, but it does protect you from the government imprisoning you.
In simple terms, you cannot be held criminally liable for anything you say, except if it would lead to immediate bodily harm (like shouting "fire" in a crowded place and causing a stampede, or a direct call for physical violence). Unlike many other developed countries, the USA doesn't have a "hate speech" law, so you cannot be imprisoned for merely hurting the feelings of other people.
In contrast, in many developed countries you might be fined or even imprisoned for stating an opinion which certain groups of people claim to be offensive, even if it does not put people into immediate danger. Examples range from disagreement about historical events, to social media posts criticizing immigration policy.
As this is a sensitive topic, please note the following:
- the question asked, and this answer provided an example for a freedom which has unique characteristics in the USA. It's not about whether you agree with those freedoms, or if you agree or disagree about how they are more limited in other countries. It's merely about their existence.
- it's not about whether "hate speech" laws in other countries are a good or a bad thing. It's merely about their existence.
- this answer is about stating an opinion, and whether you could be criminally charged for it. Therefore libel isn't a counterexample, because it's a civil case: the police won't come knocking on your door after they've read something you've written or they've heard something you've said (like they do in some other countries if you write a negative opinion about some groups of people in your blog). A specific individual who claims to have suffered financial harm due to your statements must prove that the statement was wrong, that you reasonably believed it was wrong, and that the financial harm was a consequence of those statements, and then you have to repay that loss. It's completely different from being imprisoned for voicing an opinion the government doesn't like you voicing.
- as it focuses on speech, things other than directly voicing an opinion in a spoken or written form are off topic regarding this answer (like pornography, public nudity).
Also note, that as this protects only against the government punishing you for your views, and because employment laws are less protective of employees in the USA than in most other democracies, it can (and probably does) happen that companies discriminate against employees based on their political views more easily in the USA than in Europe. Still, this answer was not about that, but about the government not being able to imprison you for your political views, which is indeed quite strongly protected in the USA.
The freedom to discriminate.
Most countries ban discrimination on the basis of not only sex, race, and religion - as the US does too - but also on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, marital status, etc.
In the US, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, marital status, and other variables other than race, sex, and religion, is allowed.
In the US, private employers are free to make hiring decisions on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, marital status, and other variables. Such behavior would be banned in some other countries.
Additionally, companies or entities such as landlords can refuse to serve customers on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, marital status, and other variables. Again, this behavior would be banned in some other countries.
In the US, it is totally legal to refuse to hire a candidate for employment because he is gay, or to refuse to rent to a widowed father because he is single. In other countries, such discrimination would be illegal.
Some specific states or cities within the US have passed laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, marital status and some other variables, but these are not national laws.
Maybe a different viewpoint:
I'd argue that virtually all of the freedoms offered by the USA are unique. How can I support this position, given that even Russia has a version of the First Amendment?
Their uniqueness stems not from their existence -does anyone actually believe the Russian right to free speech is worth the paper on which it was printed? Their uniqueness is due to the fact that due to our separation of powers, our freedoms are protected from infringement by the very structure of our government. Yes, I agree about the 17th amendment - we can have that discussion in another thread, but we haven't quite arrived at the time to press the "eject" button.
I'm not saying it makes our system perfect, but it does make our freedoms far, far more "real" than those of any other nation, and thus unique.