Monday, October 27, 2008

A Right To...

Because of America, the case for human rights achieved monumental proportions when it was penned in our Declaration of Independence, and with the ratification of the United States Constitution with it's first ten amendments, called the Bill of Rights. Can you name those rights? They are the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, petition, arms, the freedom against quartering soldiers and unreasonable searches or seizures, the right to due process of law, freedom from incriminating yourself and double jeopardy, right of a speedy and public trial and a trial by jury, and the freedom from excessive bail and cruel punishment.

These are the rights specifically mentioned in the Constitution as a list of "thou shalt nots" to infringement from government. I am grateful for all of them. Unfortunately, to many, this list has grown to include "rights" such as housing, health-care, and schooling. I disagree that these are "rights" and believe to call them as such does harm to real human rights by diminishing their importance. If everything is a right, nothing is a right, after all.

So what is a right? A right is something that exists simultaneously among all people and confers no obligation on another person. To believe in whichever god I choose is my right insofar as my god does not require that I offer human sacrifices against the will of those other humans. I don't have a right to worship in that way, and neither does anyone else. Likewise, to report and print the news is my right insofar as I pay for the press myself, and not obligate another to pay for it for me. This is such a simple test to tell whether something is a right, yet so few want to apply it. So I'll give a couple of alternatives.

Take the claimed "right" to health-care. Would that "right" still exist if nobody wanted to practice medicine? What if not a single person wanted to be a doctor or a nurse. What happens to the right to health-care? It shows it's true colors. And the "right" to schooling? Say that you were the only person living on Earth. If there's nobody around to "school" you, what happens to that right? It shows it's true colors as well.

So what about these "rights" to housing, health-care, and schooling? They aren't rights. They are wants, or wishes, or whatever you want to call them. Just don't call them rights. And don't expect me, or anyone truly committed to freedom, to be happy about being coerced to pay for them.

(On a side note, the "right" of a trial by jury is peculiar given that it does confer obligations on other people. Perhaps jury duty should be voluntary, and only those who have volunteered for jury duty have the right to a trial by jury. I believe enough people would sign-up.)

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