By Krista Kafer (firstname.lastname@example.org) Recently on Backbone Radio (Sundays 5-8, 710 KNUS) we spoke with Andy McKean, founder of Liberty Day, an organization that promotes and celebrates the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. He reminded us of a law enacted in 2004 to require all educational institutions receiving federal funds to teach about the Constitution every 17th of September (the day the Constitution was signed in 1787).
Ironically, Congress has no authority over education under the Constitution and was outside of its mandate when it enacted this law; nevertheless, the nation’s K-12 and college students need every opportunity they can get to learn more about the Constitution -- of which most are woefully ignorant. (Contact the Liberty Day.org website for information on its pocket constitutions and other school resources.)
Even if they didn’t read it in school, everyone should take time to read the Constitution this month. Voters, in particular, should grab a copy now that election season is under way. Politicians and special interests have a nasty habit of misusing and distorting the founding words to sell themselves and their questionable ideas to the public.
Take this statement for example, “We support the equal right of all people to have freedom of expression, religion and the pursuit of happiness as well as a quality education, a clean and safe environment, a secure and healthy future, a fair living wage, secure retirement, equal opportunity, and access to quality health care.” That's from the Colorado Democratic Party's website, and you’re bound to hear a lot of the like until November 7th.
Such statements seem to echo the principles of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights -- yet in misusing the term “right," this line of thought expresses something quite opposite. The term “right” as the founders understood it relates to natural rights -- those God-given inalienable rights to life, liberty and property that every human being has just by being alive. The purpose of government is to protect these rights from those who would trample them.
Government’s purpose in guaranteeing natural rights, expressed unequivocally in the Declaration of Independence, is reiterated in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights – no one shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The rights in the Bill of Rights (i.e. freedom of expression, religion, gun ownership, etc) are natural extensions of the rights to life, liberty, and property.
There is an important distinction between natural rights and other claims; a natural right does not obligate others to sacrifice their rights for its fulfillment. For example, if someone is granted a “right” to housing or health care without paying for it, then another is obligated to sacrifice his or her property and labor to pay for it. Person A has the liberty to forego buying insurance with his money (property), but Person B who pays for it through her taxes loses both her property and her liberty to do with it what she wishes. Rather than serve as the equal guarantor of everyone’s liberty and property, government takes some people’s liberty and property to dispense it to others.
“Rights” to free services are not rights as the founders understood them. They are privileges for some and sacrifices for others. In the 20th century, however, politicians began to use these opposite terms synonymously. What began with Wilson and FDR has become a habit among politicians from both parties. Voters should be suspicious of politicians who promise services as rights. They are distorting the principle of rights for their own gain and in doing so, eroding the very rights they are supposed to protect.
Keep that in mind on Constitution Day, September 17, and again on Election Day, November 7.