There are two tendencies in talking about freedom that, it seems to me, need to be resisted. The first is an attempt to make absolutely sweeping pronouncements to the effect that people should be free to do everything of type x. Those always have to be qualified. Hence, it is simply false that people should be free to practice any religion, because the obvious examples of infant sacrifice, suicide bombing, and child temple prostitution come up. It won't work, either, to say that people should be free to do anything except to commit force and fraud, because "taking your baby home from the hospital and non-violently leaving him to starve in a closet" is a fairly easy counterexample, as are many others.
A tempting reaction to the first set of sweeping statements, however, is also incorrect, and that is to say that we should be free only to do what is right.
Now, that is wrong, too, and to show it, I present the ugly tie test: Suppose that my neighbor is standing in his driveway, minding his own business, drinking a mug of coffee before going to work. I happen to be outside doing a little gardening, and I notice that his tie seems to me to be the ugliest tie I have ever seen. Being an unpleasant person, I'm not content with merely thinking this privately. Instead, I call over to him, "Hey, Joe, that's the ugliest tie I have ever seen. Did you think you were gonna impress the boss with that tie?" And I laugh and go inside.
If I do that, am I pursuing the right? Of course not. I was being a jerk.
But do we want to live in a polis in which Joe can call the cops on me for that passing unkind remark? I submit that we don't, or at least we shouldn't. He shouldn't even be able to sue me.
On the other hand, when Joe holds a neighborhood barbecue, if he pointedly doesn't invite me and tells all the neighbors about the ugly tie incident, I should have no recourse, either, but to accept the expected social consequences of my rude act.
That's a tiny microcosm of one aspect of a free society. I have the freedom, at least in trivial matters, to be a jerk, and other people have the freedom to hold it against me. One could argue that neither of us is pursuing the highest good. If Joe were a saint, he'd invite me cheerfully to the barbecue, heaping coals of fire on my head.
This is why, unlike in Pakistan, in a free society we don't expect riots against religious minorities because someone puts up something taken to be blasphemous on Facebook.
Can I put the ugly tie principle into a single statement? Well, that's pretty hard to do without getting into those sweeping statements to the effect that "people should be free to do what they want as long as they don't hurt anybody else" and the like, which I already rejected in the first paragraph. Everything has to be qualified. After all, if I start phoning Joe up on the phone day after day and leaving abusive messages on his voice mail about his ugly tie, after a while some sort of tort or harassment law is going to kick in, and rightly so. If I send Joe a letter containing lengthy fantasies about watching him burn in hell, that should probably trigger such laws as well.
The same is true of parental rights. Anyone who reads my musings knows that I'm a huge advocate of parental rights. But what can one say about that except that within reasonable limits parents should have wide latitude in the upbringing of their children? It's the same messy mess, and somebody, hopefully somebody with a good dose of common sense, will end up deciding what constitutes "reasonable limits." No, it isn't child abuse to let your child play in the back yard alone. For that matter, a mother shouldn't be harassed terrifyingly by the police for leaving her son to play a video game in the car while she runs into the store for a gallon of milk. Even parents with somewhat weird diet ideas should be allowed to impose these on their kids, but not if the kids start being evidently emaciated and ill as a result. If the Powers that Be think my religion is contemptible superstition, they shouldn't on that basis be able to stop me from teaching it to my kids or even home schooling. Daniel Dennett is a creepy totalitarian for implying that the state should have a right to insist that kids be taught Darwinism against their parents' objections, and Richard Dawkins is a religious bigot for saying that teaching your children about the doctrine of hell is child abuse. But if I'm actually teaching my children to be suicide bombers, that's a different matter. And so on and so forth.
We all think that we know at least approximately what the reasonable limits on freedom ought to be, and then we find out, especially on the Internet, just how much disagreement there is.
But at the risk of sounding like some kind of mystic, I think it's better to live with the tensions than to try to resolve them by making sweeping pronouncements in either the pro-freedom or the anti-freedom direction.
As I said in this comment, every red-blooded American, and still more, every red-blooded conservative, should have enough of a pro-freedom streak in him that his immediate reaction to Scotland's "named person" proposal is, "Get out of my face. Who the dickens do you think you are? No stranger gets to micromanage my raising of my kids!"
And yes, that means that you should have the freedom to make mistakes in raising your kids. A grumpy, unkind father who tells his crestfallen son that his pitching was terrible in the Little League game should not be subject to state investigation for some trumped-up crime like "harming a child's self-esteem." That's the parental rights version of the ugly tie test. Rightful zones of freedom cannot simply be explained in terms of "freedom to do what is good."
But as for precisely, exactly what principles govern those rightful zones of freedom--I know what it looks like when I see it, and I'll support or oppose policy accordingly. That's probably how it should be.