Do we really have inalienable rights?
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by Laramie Boyd
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What is a "right" anyway? Almost every day you hear or read about someone who thinks they
have a "right" to something or a right to do something. A dictionary states that a right is "something that can be claimed to be properly
due", something we are entitled to just because of the circumstances we are in. Do claims for the following rights sound familiar?
Do we have a right to a fair trial, to bear arms, a right to life, a right to choose, a right to marry someone of the same sex, to
worship in our own way, and so many others? Some of these seem either legal or illegal, while others seem more subtly connected to
some form of innate, natural entitlement, a right shared by all and deserved by all, for just being alive.
Certainly, if some type of action or behavior is written into a statute of law as either legal or not, there is an understanding that
there is usually a right to act or behave in a way that follows that law. A problem with that kind of right is that different cities
and states and governments pass different laws. What is legal in one area is not necessarily legal in another. So, what is a legal
right in one place may not be a legal right in another. And when you factor in the Federal Government, where the controversy over
states rights vs. Federal rights is ongoing, the situation gets murky. So legality may not be the only criteria for determining what
a right is. Maybe geography, also, plays a part in what rights we have and, as Einstein might throw in, rights are relative too. This
view, then, asks the questions " Do we have a right to do something that is legal, but is not moral or just?" And "Do we have the
right to do something that is moral or just, but is against the law?” Of course the answers here will be based on the way "moral"
and "just" are defined, and so will have very little consistency. Religions and Politicians will debate these questions and will never
Do we have a right to the opportunity for an education, a right to abort a fetus
as seen fit by the mother, a right to buy cigarettes at age 18, a right to buy a gun of our choice? How about marrying someone of
the same sex? Is there a right to worship or pray in our own way in private or in public, including in schools? Will a law change
the status of whether these are rights or not, whatever the law says? Any answers given to these questions would be value judgments,
primarily, and people's values vary. Like all value judgments, they are neither correct, or false, they are just opinions. They are
not, like some noisy advocates of their own views angrily charge, "The truth and nothing but the truth." When someone states, categorically,
"I have a right to do such and such", what they are really saying, I suspect, is "I want to do such and such", or "I'm going to do
such and such."
Rights can be given by Congress, teachers, parents, Mayors, Presidents,
and Clergy. Rights, whether to freedom, housing, health care, peace, or any hoped for right, usually have to be earned, fought for,
appreciated and protected while they are available and as long as they last. At one time slavery was legal, then it was outlawed.
Prayer in public schools was approved of, then disallowed. Freedom of assembly was treated with fire hoses and attack dogs not too
long ago, by government institutions. The right to bear arms can be taken away just as it was given, long ago, some just waiting for
the special President to come along who will undermine the 2nd Amendment. Early in our history, African Americans could not vote,
then they had to pay a poll tax to vote, and now their vote has been granted. Women's suffrage was at first denied, then allowed.
Before Prohibition, you could buy liquor legally, then the right was removed, then legalized once again. Voting age has been reduced
from 21 to 18, one argument for the reduction being that if 18 year olds can fight and die for their country, surely they should be
allowed to vote. Rights are changed by those who bestow them.
We all recall these beautiful
words: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,,,,," History has told us that some of these ideals have not always been met,
and when they were, they were not enjoyed by all, and sometimes not for very long. Everyone would probably agree that we have the
right to think the way we want, and to worship the way we want, in private, but too often we have seen that most other rights are
at the mercy of those in power, whether elected officials or dictators. Stated simply, rights are fragile allowances given to the
people by the existing governments, and we all know that governments giveth, and governments taketh away.