The so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on 21st June has been delayed by four weeks, declared the newspaper headlines, which got me thinking: who decided that it was up to the Government to decide when we are or are not free?

Throughout out the coronavirus crisis I have been broadly supportive of the Government taking action to suppress the virus and restrict its spread. I’m no epidemiologist but it has seemed necessary medically, unless we were willing to pay a scandalously high price in loss of life when we could have done more. Closer to my expertise, lockdown measures have been politically unavoidable. Every decision has a counterpoint, but when faced with opposition politicians who will respond to any decisions less than draconian as a failure to stop avoidable deaths, it is easy to predict how politicians will act. Delays can be both a symptom of understanding complexity and a reluctance to take hard choices –even in hindsight things aren’t always clear.

On 22 February when Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the roadmap with steps of easing restrictions, he said: We are now travelling on a one-way road to freedom”. In light of that, 21 June, the earliest date when all restrictions could have been lifted, was dubbed Freedom Day’. With the meeting of each previous step on the earliest date predicted, the expectation became far more about dates than data, but with rising cases and expectation management aplenty, the delay announced on 14 June came with very little surprise. 

Freedom is one of those concepts that the more you think about it the more complicated it gets. On first glance it is incredibly straightforward and appealing; who doesn’t want to be free? What fiend would stand against others having freedom? It has been the go-to political mantra for diverse and contradictory campaigns down the generations. From Marxist freedom fighters, to anarchists, to those in favour of lower taxes, from campaigners for wider access to abortion, to those who backed the UK leaving the EU. Freedom is a term almost so wide it is not worth using. Because the problem is that one person’s freedom is often used at the expense of another’s.


It brings back slightly traumatic memories of my first-year political theory seminars looking at different concepts of freedom and what that entails for political ideologies and policy making. To vastly over-simplify centuries of thoughts, on one hand you have freedom from where we are free from restrictions on us, and on the other hand you have freedom to, where we are able to act on our freedoms. The former is taken to its logical conclusion politically by libertarians who want as few government actions as possible which restrict us. While freedom is found outside of the actions of the government, it paradoxically requires the government to act as the guarantor of freedom, to use its authority to stop others restricting freedom, which in turn restricts someone’s freedom somewhere.

Andy Crouch in his book The Tech Wise Family draws a distinction between rest and leisure: leisure requires someone else’s effort for our enjoyment. We might be free to enjoy the rides at the funfair because someone else is working to provide the entertainment. Freedom is similar: the act of ensuring freedom usually involves curtailing freedom. Absolute autonomy is a short cut to chaos because it means that you end up privileging whoever has the power and resources to assert their freedom. That’s why there’s always a role for government in stewarding our freedoms – they do not come from government actions or policies, and governments have to be aware of how their actions can restrict as well as liberate – but governments play vital role.

"My biggest problem with ‘Freedom Day’ is that it suggests that it is government that delivers freedom instead of being stewards of the freedoms we have"

That is why talk of Freedom Day’ is disingenuous. We were never going to be completely free on 21 June because the Government lifted some more restrictions, and we won’t be fully free on 19 July assuming this revised plan unfolds as hoped. Governments have a provisional role in defending and stewarding our freedom, but when we place too much emphasis on their actions in delivering freedom we put a weight of expectation that they cannot match. This leads to us becoming disappointed in politicians and unwilling to believe their promises; and the more that freedom as absolute autonomy is offered, the greater the risk that we buy into this chimera as the outcome that we all need.

Freedom is never the same as absolute autonomy; it cannot be worked out in isolation or at expense of others. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Paul’s letter to the Galatians goes on to say: Stand firm, them, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” If we only think about formal and legal restrictions on our freedom, we could interpret this passage as an argument for minimal government interference in our lives. But freedom is not the absence of restriction.

I have a one-year-old daughter which means there are things I am less free to do, but I don’t consider her to be a yoke of slavery. We have put up a gate and fence between the lounge and the rest of our downstairs so that our daughter is free to play. By putting some restrictions in place her freedom is actually enhanced. The various commitments and restrictions in our life when held in balance can make us more free rather than less.

Freedom Day’ promises more than it can possibly deliver, and the notion of it undermines the freedom we already have. Undoubtedly, the restrictions of the last 15 months have been extremely difficult for many, and for business now facing further delays until they can open or ongoing restrictions that limit their actions, this delay is hard. But it isn’t that theatres or pubs will suddenly have no limits on their capacity; all public venues have fire and safety limits, for example – we accept many restrictions for long-term reasons of public safety.

But my biggest problem with Freedom Day’ is that it suggests that it is government that delivers freedom instead of being stewards of the freedoms we have. It causes us to lose sight of the freedom that only comes from Jesus.