Sunday, December 14, 2008

217 years old and holding...barely...

December 15th is the 217th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. That's the first ten amendments to our Constitution, set in place to protect our already existing rights from government usurpation. There is a wide range of views on how effective they have been in accomplishing that goal.

Certainly people of the libertarian persuasion can cite many examples where they believe government has ignored our protections, especially those afforded by the first, second, fourth, fifth, ninth and tenth amendments. Other groups place varying amounts of importance on some of the amendments, while placing none at all on others.

I'm a big believer in individual rights, and a big fan of anything that serves to keep the government in check. Which is why I believe the Bill of Rights needs to be rigidly interpreted, and why people need to understand they still have the same rights even when it isn't.

I wrote this opinion back in 2005 to express some of my thoughts on rights. I still believe it's right....

The recent uproar over certain pharmacists’ refusal to provide “morning-after” birth control pills due to moral objections showcases the misconception of rights that many people have. Does a pharmacist have the right to refuse to sell a product he or she finds morally objectionable, or does a woman have the right to purchase a drug that the FDA has approved for sale? The answer to both questions is yes.

Oddly enough, many of our elected officials seem unable to grasp the concept of rights. In California, legislators are drafting legislation that would require pharmacists to provide any lawful drug, regardless of their moral or religious beliefs. Apparently they believe they can give someone the right to force someone else to do something that person finds objectionable. At the same time, legislators in Washington are drafting legislation that would require employers to make allowances for their employee’s religious beliefs. Apparently they believe they can give an employee ( perhaps a pharmacist), the right to refuse their employer’s orders, (perhaps an order to sell birth control pills), without a fear of repercussion, so long as the refusal is made on religious grounds. So what happens next? Does the pharmacist go to jail for not providing the drug, or does the pharmacy owner go to jail for forcing him to make the sale or firing him for not making the sale?

Maybe the solution lies in the realization that government cannot grant rights, that every person in the world is born with the same natural rights, regardless of the type of government they live under.

Every person has the right to purchase what someone else wishes to sell. If your pharmacist decides he will sell Bayer Aspirin but not Tylenol, you have the right to get mad, you have the right to walk out the door and find a pharmacist that sells Tylenol. You don’t have the right to force the offending pharmacist to sell Tylenol.

When an employee goes to work for an employer, they come to an agreement. The employee agrees to perform a service in return for benefits. The employer agrees to provide benefits in return for services provided. When they can no longer agree on services and benefits, they have the right to part ways in search of other employers and employees. This is our system of free enterprise and contract law. It works well with minimum government intrusion. Government has no reason to step in until someone tries to forcibly prevent you from going to another pharmacy, or until an employer defrauds an employee, or until an employee defrauds an employer.

Your rights cannot conflict with someone else’s rights. If something you decide to do requires or leads to the initiation of force against another person, then it isn’t a right.

Yes, you have the right to join with any number of people and pool your resources for your retirement. No, you don’t have the right to force someone to join your group.

Yes, you have the right defend yourself against violence. No, you don’t have the right to initiate violence.

Yes, you have the right to donate to any cause or charity you choose. No, you don’t have the right to force anybody else to donate.

Yes, you have the right to seek an education. No, you don’t have the right to take someone’s home if they decide they don’t want to pay for your education.

Yes, you have the right to own and control your property. No you don’t have the right to control someone else’s property.

Yes, you have the right to prevent people from smoking on your property. No, you don’t have the right to prevent people from smoking on their property.

Rights belong to individuals. While every person in a group has rights, belonging to a group does not give you more rights than a single person.

This group of people that is our government needs to realize they cannot grant or take away our rights. They can only protect those rights, or prevent us from practicing them. I’d prefer a government that protects them.



Blogger Rob Place said...

Great piece; sorry I missed it the first time around...

7:12 AM  

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