Here is my interpretation on how the US performs in regard to the 40 rights and freedoms in the Human Freedom Index:
The right to:
- travel in own country
Certain probation restrictions prevent travel outside of a certain state or county, and are sometimes too onerous for the crime. Other than that, the US does well, unless this right implies that public transportation ought to be available for travel within a country and within regions, in which case the US fails in most cases.
- travel abroad
Not much of a problem, except in a few cases
- peacefully associate and assemble
Dispite being a right guaranteed by the first sentence of the bill of rights, the US makes a mockery of this these days. Ask anyone who has been to or attempted to join a protest or rally in the last few years.
- teach ideas and receive information
It's a mixed bag. See media sections below
- monitor human rights violations
I think we're doing OK.
- ethnic language
The US does fine on this one
The freedom from:
- forced or child labor
Almost every state in US employs compulsory prison labor - everything from chain gangs to call customer service call centers for major corporations, and again, due to draconian drug sentencing laws, the punishment does not always fit the crime. I would say this qualifies as forced labor. (Forced) child labor seems not to be too much of a problem, unless you count the operations of US based corporations overseas.
- compulsory work permits
Not a problem
- extra-judicial killings or "disappearances"
There are a few famous examples, including the FBI murders of Black Panther activists. These days we seem to be doing better.
- torture or coercion
Generally not a problem, but I shudder to think what might happen once in a while under those hot lights in the back of police stations
- capital punishment
The US is notoriously bad. We are the only western nation with capital punishment and execute far and away the most people. The abuses of the system are mammoth, from defense lawyers sleeping through trials to judges refusing to admit potentially exonerating DNA evidence. In executing persons under 18, we are in an elite league with states like Malaysia and Iran.
- corporal punishment
24 states allow corporal punishment in schools, and progressive activists are well acquainted with police batons as punitive instruments.
- unlawful detention
Again, ask anyone who has been to a protest in the past 10 years. The US is an abysmal performer
- compulsory party or organization membership
Not a problem
compulsory religion or state ideology in schools
Things are definitely getting worse in this area, with many school districts mandating that so called 'creation science' be taught along with evolution in public schools. The 'state ideology' question is a thorny one, but I for one certainly remember being indoctrinated with my share of lies about history.
- arts control
Giulliani's occasional stunts aside, this is thankfully not much of a problem.
- political censorship of press
This is a tough one. Although the government usually does not engage in active censorship (an exception being the recent revelation of a military official 'working' at CNN), the institutional filters acting on the media have the same effect as government censorship. See Manufacturing Consent.
- censorship of mail or telephone-tapping
As far as I know, a warrant is needed for wire tapping. However, I don't believe e-mail is subject to the same protections. Watch out for that V-chip.
The freedom for:
- peaceful political opposition
Why wasn't Ralph Nader allowed into the presidential debates, or even allowed to view them? Why are ballot access requirements different for 'third parties'?
- multiparty elections by secret and universal ballot
The US has the most entrenched two party system of any democracy. It is a de-facto two party state, and considering the similarities of the major parties, a virtual one party state. Also let's not forget that while wealthy communities often vote with fool proof optical scanners, poorer precincts are usually left with century old voting machines or notoriously flawed punch cards.
- political and legal equality for women
As bad as things are culturally for women, legally they are basically on a par
- social and economic equality for ethnic minorities
Grade: D minus No elaboration necessary
- independent newspapers
- independent book publishing
- independent radio and television networks
The US makes a mockery of these freedoms given the agglomeration of media that has taken place over the last few decades. See Manufacturing Consent for a further discussion. I would venture to say the range of debate on, say CNN, is about as limited as Pravda was, with far reaching consequences for democracy and the ability to transmit information.
- independent courts
I think we're ok here, last winter's Judicial coup aside.
- independent trade unions
The US is OK on this one, unless take this as also implying the right to unionize, which, although guaranteed by law, is often not respected, especially by the likes of Wal-Mart.
The right to:
- a nationality
not a problem
- being considered innocent until proved guilty
Again, one of our cherished freedoms from the bill of rights. Sadly, it does not seem to apply any more if you're black and driving, or of any persuasion and attending a protest or political rally of any sort.
- free legal aid when necessary and counsel of own choice
If we take this to imply that the legal aid must be of a certain minimum quality, then we have somewhat of a problem. Convictions being upheld in cases where defense lawyers slept through trials is par for the course in American criminal justice.
- open trial
Generally we perform pretty well here.
- prompt trial
freedom from police searches of home without a warrant
Generally we're doing OK, although 'probable cause' is getting stretched ever dangerously further these days. Even watching an episode of Cops can be shocking.
freedom from arbitrary seizure of personal property
This is getting to be a problem in the US. If you're ever stopped for a traffic offense during a critical mass ride, good luck ever getting your bike back.
The personal right to:
- interracial, inter-religious or civil marriage
No legal obstacles here
- equality of sexes during marriage and for divorce proceedings
Several states have different minimum marriage ages for men and women, and most states have different ages of consent. Other than that, we're doing well.
- homosexuality between consenting adults
Anti-sodomy laws are still on the books in 12 states, and have been upheld by the Supreme Court time and again. Many states and localities give homosexuals no legal protection from discrimination. See also Defense of Marriage Act.
- practice any religion
Fine, unless that religion has a centuries old tradition of ritual payote use
- determine the number of one's children
Thankfully, laws restricting access to birth control were struck down by the Supreme Court a generation ago. The next step would be to require health plans to cover birth control methods like every other prescription drug.
So by my reckoning we pass with no serious reservations in only 13 of the rights and freedoms.