Opinion: 12th annual Freedom Conference was victory for liberty

Jennifer Schubert-Akin
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Steamboat Institute just completed what may have been the nation’s only large in-person public policy conference of the summer — or, as one of our speakers dubbed it, “The near-miracle in Beaver Creek.”

The 12th annual Freedom Conference took place with 200 guests and speakers, attending in person, at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek last weekend. With most large gatherings canceled, postponed or converted into virtual events, the Steamboat Institute was proud to set an example for how larger group gatherings may safely resume.

Thanks to our event, the Park Hyatt was able to bring many employees back from furlough. The direct economic impact of our Freedom Conference on Eagle County was approximately $350,000. Events like these provide a significant economic impact on local businesses, including hotels, A/V contractors, retail shops and restaurants. They also generate tax dollars — the opposite of protests and riots, which drain public safety budgets and local resources.

Speakers for our conference included Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal editorial board and Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, as well as Iraq War veteran Rob Smith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith and numerous other national thought leaders. Discussions focused on pressing national problems and solutions, including the tradeoff between liberty and security, the growth of socialism, the best way to conduct environmental conservation and colleges’ failure to teach anything beyond political correctness.

The most pressing issue in the U.S. right now is the response to the Chinese coronavirus. Our conference covered this topic with a panel featuring U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, economist Dr. Art Laffer and Scott Atlas, M.D., a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The Steamboat Institute experienced this political reaction to the coronavirus first-hand in struggling to navigate government edicts to stage our event successfully. For the first time ever, we held our annual Freedom Conference outside of Steamboat Springs due to its strict group size limits and physical distancing requirements.

Ultimately, Eagle County was more welcoming and offered a much larger venue. Yet despite complying with its strenuous health regulations, including three separate cohorts of guests in three different meeting rooms, physical distancing at and in between tables, masks, sanitizer and temperature checks, we did not receive final approval of our event plan until five days before our event kicked off. 

Responding to public health threats is a legitimate government function, but public officials must resist the lure to exploit the virus to grow their power. As Dr. Scott Atlas noted in his panel, the coronavirus infection fatality rate for people under 70 is 0.04%, which is less than or equal to seasonal influenza. The small risk of the virus must be weighed against the enormous reward of granting Americans the civil liberties that are our birthright. 

Our Stopping the Stampede on Civil Liberties campaign seeks to educate Americans about how elected officials are trampling on their fundamental rights in their response to this virus.

The First Amendment upholds “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The widespread restrictions on social gatherings are in direct violation of this right, and we believe that defending and exercising this right is at the core of what the Steamboat Institute stands for — namely, individual liberty, limited government, personal responsibility and equal opportunity for all.

Our conference speakers made passionate arguments in support of these principles, and all conference attendees demonstrated by their actions that Americans are still willing to fight for their Constitutional rights.

Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the chairman, CEO and cofounder of The Steamboat Institute. 

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