Sep 27

Far too much has already been made of a particular series of protests.  I don’t want to beat that horse any further.  However, in the discourse surrounding the protests, the topic of Rights has come up more than once.  In this article, I’m going to talk a bit about Rights.

I have heard comments along the lines of “I support their right to protest.”  Over the years, I have also heard comments like “I support the right to bear arms” or “I support women’s rights” or any number of other shows of support.

This is a misunderstanding of Rights.

Saying that you support a Right is sort of like saying, “I support you being alive.”  It implies that you might try to take it away from me if you don’t support it.  If you are willing to take it from me, then you do not view it as my Right.  While I am grateful that someone would support my right to be alive, I’d like to know that people would be willing to do more than just “support” it.

You have a Right to practice your religion, no matter what that religion might be.  This means that nobody is allowed to take that away from you, regardless of whether or not they “support” your Right or your religion.  The same is true for people who follow religions other than yours.

You have a Right to speak your opinions, no matter what those opinions might be.  This means that nobody is allowed to force you to be silent, regardless of whether or not they “support” your Right or your opinions.  The same is true for people who have opinions other than yours.

You have a Right to peaceably protest, no matter what you are protesting.  This is not dependent on whether anyone “supports” the protest.  It is a Right, as long as it is peaceable.

A Right is not remotely dependent on it being supported by anyone.  It wouldn’t matter if everyone in the country opposed it, if someone is exercising their Right then they are protected by the Constitution that creates and defines not only our Government but our Rights.  Your support, or lack of it, has nothing to do with someone else’s Rights.

In the Declaration of Independence, we read these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The words to which I wish to draw your attention are “self-evident” and “inalienable.”  “Self-evident” means that we shouldn’t have to prove it or create an argument for it.  It should be obvious.  “Inalienable” means that it cannot be taken away.  The author is saying that you obviously have certain Rights and those Rights cannot be taken from you.  It doesn’t matter who “supports” those Rights, who agrees or disagrees, or how you exercise those Rights (as long as you are not denying those Rights to someone else).

You should not have to prove that you have a Right to live.  This should be self-evident.  Similarly, you should not have to prove that you have the Right to be free from oppression and tyranny.  You should not have to prove that you are innocent of wrong-doing.  You should not have to submit to a search or a detainment without a lawful cause.  You should be allowed to follow your heart in pursuit of whatever makes you happy.  You should get to go home when you want.  You should get to feel safe not only within your home, but in all of your travels to and from it.

You probably accept those truths to be self-evident.  You probably also accept those truths to be inalienable – nobody is allowed to take those away from you unless they have a really good reason.

Sadly, that is not true for all Americans.

Just for a moment, I want you to picture a class of people whom you distrust.  You may even be afraid of them.  If you’re not sure, or if you can’t think of anyone, here’s a list of categories of people, one of whom you probably distrust in general:  politicians, bankers, priests, pastors, business owners, lawyers, the homeless, the rich, police, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, doctors, hospitals, scientists, intellectuals, rednecks, gun owners, …

I bet you thought of one.  Picture that group of people.  Think about what it is that you distrust about them.  What is it that makes you so uncomfortable?  What are you afraid that they might do to you or those you love?

Now think about what would make you feel safer, more protected from that group of people.  What would make you less afraid of them?  What would make you feel like they could no longer harm you or those you love?  What can be done to make you feel like the scales have been balanced, or that will bring about justice for wrongs already done?

In all likelihood, your answer involves two things:  protecting your rights at the cost of theirs.

Try to pretend for a minute, that you have been on the receiving end of such an effort, that a group of people has tried to protect themselves at the cost of your rights.  How do you think you would respond?  Would you protest?  Would you push back?  Would you escalate the rhetoric?

You might end up saying or doing something that either “confirmed” their fears or made them more afraid?  What happens when they get more afraid?

The other side of that same coin is anger.  Anger at perceived injustice can also lead us to try to take rights away from people.

Fill in these blanks:  _______ should not be allowed to _______.

There’s a good chance that the sentence violates a right.  When you are in a position of power, such as a majority group in a democracy, then you may be tempted to use your power to enforce your will upon the minority and “protect” yourself from them.  If this happens often enough, or egregiously enough, a struggle for power will ensue.  Protests will turn into rebellion, rebellion will become revolution.  The Declaration of Independence was written for those reasons.  When a people feel like their rights have been trampled on too much for too long, they will no longer respect or recognize the authority of those who claim to rule over them.  They will declare their own independence in defense of their Rights.

I am grateful that, for the most part, we remain “The United States of America.”  I am concerned as to how much longer that will last.

If you want it to last, spend more time exercising your Right to listen and less time exercising your right Right to speak.

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