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Jim McMahon/Mapman®

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.7, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.2

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.3, Civ.10, Eco.1, Geo.4, Geo.5, His.1, His.3, His.10

NCSS: Individuals, groups, and institutions; Power, authority, and governance

What Does Freedom Mean?

What does it take to be considered a free country—and how free are the world’s nations?

“It’s a free country!” You’ve probably heard that remark countless times. But have you ever thought about what “a free country” really means?

Freedom is the ability to act, speak, or think without restrictions. When it comes to countries and societies, freedom usually has to do with three types of legal freedoms people can have: political, social, and economic. Political freedom includes the right to vote and participate in government. Social freedom includes the right to free speech, free exercise of religion, and equal treatment under the law. Economic freedom includes being able to earn a living, choose and change jobs, and own property.

There is no one way to be a free country—or a not-free one. In the United States, many of our freedoms are outlined in the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Freedom House, an organization that studies political systems around the world, watches for challenges to freedom and democracy. It issues an annual report that divides countries into three groups: free, partly free, and not free (see map, above).

How does Freedom House determine which countries go into each group? Every country is given a score on a scale that goes up to 100 (most free). Each country’s score is based on an analysis of its people’s political rights and civil liberties (basic rights or freedoms that are guaranteed by law).

The map and graphs here are based on Freedom House’s latest report. As you look at them, think about this: What does freedom mean to you as an American?

A Less-Free United States?

The U.S. freedom score, which began to decline after 2010, hit its lowest point yet in 2017.

Best of the Best

All five top-scoring countries have secure multiparty elections, a respected and protected free press, political representation for women and minorities, and other clearly established freedoms.

Finland
score: 100

Norway
score: 100

Sweden 
score: 100

Canada
score: 99

Netherlands
score: 99

SOURCE: freedomintheworld.org

Worst of the Worst

The five lowest-scoring countries are all dictatorships; the worst two are torn by civil war. Elections and the press are tightly controlled or nonexistent, and human rights violations are common.

Syria
score: -1

South Sudan
score: 2

Eritrea
score: 3

North Korea
score: 3

Turkmenistan
score: 4

SOURCE: freedomintheworld.org

In the printed version of this article, we misdesignated a few unlabeled countries on our world freedom map. India, Israel, and Serbia should have been designated “free”; Gambia, Lebanon, and Papua New Guinea should have been “partly free.” A PDF of the article with a corrected map is available for download below.

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