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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?

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    While I disagree that the United States is necessarily the most free country, if such a thing can be objectively measured, nonetheless one important thing to note is that those freedoms you mention are interpreted very differently across nations, such that they're not really the same freedoms. For instance, in France bans on burkas, racist speech, and pro-life speech are viewed at least by the law as compatible with freedom of religion and speech. – Obie 2.0 Aug 7 at 18:40
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    Land of the free is a relic from 19th century, when it's not like non-monarchical democracies were really that common. If you forget slavery that is of course. – mirh Aug 8 at 16:24
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    Unique as of right now? Or unique when they were first codified? – bta Aug 8 at 16:46
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    @emory - Are you certain? I am aware that many people have advocated for them, but I don't believe it's ever been put into law, at least at the state level. Maybe some municipalities have them. There was a rule that would have prevented wearing one in the US House, which I believe has since been changed. – Obie 2.0 Aug 8 at 21:29
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    @vsz I will admit that I'm not an expert on Islam, but my understanding was that the purpose of those garments was modesty (to a very extreme extent,) not concealing one's identity. Making it harder to identify you might be an effect of wearing it, but, again, that doesn't make it the purpose of wearing it. – reirab Aug 9 at 6:29
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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.

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    Great catch. Quartering soldiers has only very rarely been a concern in human history, and the US just happened to be formed in that little sliver of time. I doubt many other countries even considered it! – Michael W. Aug 8 at 0:04
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    @Vilx- Quartering, in this sense, means "giving a place to stay" or room and board. Meals and a bed. – eidsonator Aug 8 at 10:57
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    So my brother-in-law National Guardsman doesn't have to stay with us? awesome! :) – April Aug 8 at 14:37
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    @April, well, the Constitution only pertains to the actions of the government. It has no jurisdiction over what the rest of your family says. – Seth R Aug 8 at 18:28
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    In Sweden it was banned by Magnus III in the Ordinance of Alsnö in 1280. – liftarn Aug 9 at 7:18
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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.

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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Obie 2.0 Aug 7 at 20:26
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    I thought there were other countries that protected this right as well. In fact, at one time I think Switzerland required its males to attend military training and sent them home with rifles to keep - is that no longer the case? – Aaron Aug 9 at 16:55
  • There's a bit of a disconnect between the wording of the first and second paragraphs of this answer. Ownership falls under "keep arms", not "bear arms". – Peter Taylor Aug 9 at 18:25
  • Virtually all "old world" countries have historically worked through a monarchy, nobility-based parliamentary system or even dictatorship, and even today the military is generally considered by them as a part or extension or property of the government. Contrast that with the USA, where the people themselves are acknowledged as having a right to arms quite independent of any governmental body. U.S. federal code defines the militia as "all able-bodied males" ages 17 to 45. law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/246 Some old world countries have since moved nearer to this ideal. – pygosceles Aug 15 at 20:15
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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.

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    @starchild : what hate speech laws are really intended to do is subjective and hotly debated. Supporters claim like what you stated, that it protects against severe harm and it's objectively good. Opponents claim that it's a thinly disguised attempt at fighting thoughtcrime and establishing an oppressive regime where those in power can freely eradicate opposition by abusing the power to arbitrarily decide what they consider hate crime and what they don't. Which view of these is right or wrong is outside the scope of this site to decide. – vsz Aug 9 at 4:09
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    "must prove that the statement was wrong and that the financial harm was a consequence of those statements" and they must also prove that you knew it was wrong when you made the statement, i.e. that you were lying. Making a claim mistakenly is not slander or libel, unless perhaps it was made with willfully negligent disregard for its accuracy. – reirab Aug 9 at 6:24
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    @user "The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary." – Ben Barden Aug 9 at 12:58
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    @user sounds like that one's potentially a lot more restrictive than the US version. – Ben Barden Aug 9 at 12:59
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    @Jontia I'm using 'prove' in the legal sense, where it meets some specific legal standard of 'proof,' not the mathematical/logic sense where proof is absolute by definition. In civil cases, the standard (in the U.S. anyway) is typically a preponderance of evidence. So the plaintiff would just need to provide evidence that shows the person probably knew that the statement was false when it was made. See the "Important of Intent" section of this article for more info. – reirab Aug 9 at 15:37
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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.

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    And how would all this make the US more free? The victims of such discrimination certainly don't feel more free in the US. – Polygnome Aug 8 at 12:23
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    @Polygnome That is not the question. The question is if the US guarantees any unique freedoms - this answer gives an example of that. Whether that freedom comes at the cost of someone else's freedom, or whether it is a morally right freedom to support, is irrelevant to the question. – Birjolaxew Aug 8 at 12:49
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    I'm downvoting this (which I almost never do with posts), not because I think I disagree with you about the morality, but because there is no such right in the US. States (and in most places municipalities) are perfectly free to ban gender identity discrimination if they care to, as would be the US government. All it would take would be Congress passing a law to tweak Title IX. – T.E.D. Aug 8 at 15:23
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    This doesn't seem to be "unique" to U.S., see Wikipedia: Women in India for better examples of lawful discrimination. I'm not even sure this qualifies as a "guarantee" either, given nothing in the Constitution explicitly allows this, compared to for example the Bill of Rights. – jv-dev Aug 8 at 16:13
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    "Most countries" [citation needed] – Dennis Williamson Aug 8 at 22:00
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Freedom of speech is uniquely American. The criminalization of opinions and other pseudo-offensive statements in many other countries (ex. "hate speech") are perfectly legal in the US. The now deleted comment string attached to the original question highlighted exactly how American free speech guarantees differ from the laws of other countries.

One example cited a donation of €1488 to poor families in Slovakia.

New Zealand has banned and criminalized sharing of the Christchurch Manifesto.

Germany bans non-artistic uses of Nazi imagery and likenesses.

The UK is arresting people for posting "hate speech" on social media.

The list can go on and on with more examples. The notion that one can be arrested (or even detained for questioning) for any one if these "crimes" is revolting to an American.

The free speech guarantees afforded to all people in the US are unmatched.

Edit #1: of course there are limits to free speech! Nowhere do I claim that Americans do have or should have unrestricted free speech. Fighting words and slander are and ought to be regulated.

Edit #2: an example of free speech that is not protected elsewhere? I'm shooting from the hip here, but anyone in America can goosestep down Main Street wearing hunderds of swastika and hammer/sickle patches dressed like the most vile dictator you can imagine screaming criticisms about our government system, specific politicians, Islam, transgender people, and whichever other groups with which they take issue...and even carry weapons conforming to local regulation while they do it, maybe even a gun or three (yes, displaying a weapon is speech). Now, I'll concede that the police may take an interest, but this person is not getting convicted for anything communicated during his one man parade. They may get a citation for disturbing the peace, however.

I think this example will be illegal in many countries, but not all countries. I can tailor more examples to specific countries upon request.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philipp Aug 11 at 14:44
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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 (https://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/ch2.html) 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.

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    You use Russia as an example to argue that the American freedom is more "real" than any other country. While it may be better than the system in Russia, you need to provide a better argument to claim it's better than any other country. ;) – JJJ Aug 8 at 22:53
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    How does the 17th amendment to the US constitution relate to the rest of this answer? – starchild Aug 9 at 0:23
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    Separation of powers exists in many other countries. – Daniel Aug 9 at 17:21
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    The supreme court can overturn any legislation in any country and in most countries the head of state has veto power as well (in the UK, the Queen). – Anixx Aug 10 at 15:17
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    @immibis Of course not! It's an immutable document! It's the foundation of the land! Changing it would be sacrilege! Imagine the slippery slope? First you make one innocent modification ("amendment" we could call it) and next thing you know you've got 26 or 27. That would be a crisis! – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 10 at 16:46

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