Rights And Privileges Are Not Equal

US Constitution, pen and glasses

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts ever to strike at the mind of man is a clear understanding of individual freedom. People generally associate freedom with the traditional concepts of slavery, legal restrictions and technical restraints, and governments typically take steps to curtail the liberties of the citizenry for fear of losing powers of control.

We are seeing evidences of this in Washington as you read this. Today, taking place without solicited input from us, there are disputes and discourses by and between our elected officials and the president. We read in our free press about actions contemplated, or taken, that have not been vetted or voted on by the real power of America: We the people.

Most people have either a mistaken version, or no concept, of what it means to be free. Freedom is the essence of what makes America different from practically every other country that ever existed. This is what makes America a beacon of hope and has made it, essentially, the promised land for practically every person seeking the freedom to achieve.

The list of people waiting to enter contains the names of hopefuls who have waited 10 years or longer for permission to enter, legally. Names are added to the list daily, and the news could be (but is not) full of stories about those coming here illegally from Mexico and other nations around the world.

What is this sought-after virtue so prevalent in the U.S.? The dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

Consider that definition for a moment – “the power or right.” Power is defined as “the ability to do something or act in a particular way.” One of the primary reasons people come, or desire to come, to America is to secure the “ability to do or act in the way one desires without hindrance or restraint.” Americans, especially younger Americans, are so accustomed to this ability to act without hindrance that it is taken for granted and often abused.

Today, we have reached the point where privileges are being elevated to the level of rights. The rights of some are becoming subject to the privileges of others. Judges and elected officials who do not understand the meaning of the “unalienable rights” promised in our Constitution, are now imposing privileges over rights.

You are, and should be, free to exercise your constitutionally protected rights, as long as they do not abrogate mine. However, when your privileges trample my rights, we have crossed the line that led to the American Revolution – the right of each to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

As stated, “All men are created equal,” meaning your rights and privileges cannot interfere with, or override, mine. You are free to do as you please in your life, but we cannot allow the privileges inherent in one person’s freedom to override the rights of another. In other words, you are free to do whatever you want, as long as you recognize I, too, am free to do what I choose, including disagreeing with you.

Our constitutionally protected rights are based, in part, upon this statement from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

It is unfortunate that many have reached the stage of believing they have the moral (and are now seeking the legal) right to impose their assessments of right/wrong, moral/immoral, true/false on others. We have reached the stage where there are those who would now seek to legally deny others the right to disagree with their patterns of behavior.

It should be understood that the American system of government is based upon the concept that each of us has the right to live without having someone arbitrarily impose their values on us. The Founders of this republic were specific in their description of what they had in mind for the people they represented: “[T]o secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It was the people who endowed the government with power for the specific purpose of ensuring the governed were imbued with the same. Furthermore, there were options given for maintaining the liberties of those voluntarily submitting themselves to this preserver/defender of their right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The declarants of the rights made clear their commitment to these rights – “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” 

They then went a step further. Not only had they declared themselves free from one form of tyranny and immediately established the grounds on which their new liberties would be based, but they clarified by whom it would be secured. They would not be at the mercy of a small group of unelected oligarchs, and the who of this concept was clearly articulated by the opening statement of this revolutionary new document:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

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