My Declaration of Individual Rights
Contrary to what many people would have others believe, personal liberty has a long history - all the way back to Moses and the Ten Commandments. While athiests and secularists refuse to admit it, our freedoms are based on those laws set down on Sinai. Denying it is like denying that we breathe air or have to drink water in order to survive. It's time everyone recognized these "self-evident" truths.
Exodus Chapter 20 says:
1 ¶ And God spake all these words, saying,
2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 ¶ Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
While this is directly from the Bible, and from God, let's forget that for a moment, and just concentrate on the words and their meaning. We'll also ignore for the moment the first four Commandments, although we'll come back to them later. Let's just look at the Jewish people, their success as individuals. Let's also look at the Mormon faith, and their success in life, as compared with the rest of the world. Let's also look at the Ten Commandments as if they're not part of a religion, but the compilation, verbal and written, of several thousand years of history.
I'm not an ordained minister, or a lay minister, or any other "annointed one", just a person who has a passion for history and a personal relationship with God. I also think for myself, which often puts me in conflict with everyone else around me. My words here may inspire the same conflict within the reader. Please put that aside for the moment, and concentrate on what I'm saying.
The first four commandments establish the relationship between Man and God. The next six establish the relationship between Man and Man.
The first commandment between men is to "Honor thy father and mother". How do we do that? More importantly, how do we believe an Omnipotent God would want us to do that? There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that explain what God means. They tell us we are to obey our parents, we are to listen to them and learn from them, and that we are to treat them with respect and courtesy. How many children do you know today that truly HONOR their parents? Civil courtesy has been all but destroyed in our society, and we are all poorer for it.
The next Commandment is "Thou shall not kill". One Jewish source says that the true interpretation of the original Hebrew is "Thou shall not murder." Life is precious, and should not be extinguished without the most stringent of causes. The right to life, then, is an essential right of all people.
The next Commandment is "Thou shall not commit adultery". This commandment enforces the sanctity of marriage, and the union of a man and woman before God and men. God recognizes no other union as being profitable or acceptable. The purpose for which God created Man and Woman was to be fruitful and multiply. The only acceptable way to do that, in God's eyes, is through marriage between a man and a woman. The sanctity of marriage, and the recognition of the commitment between a man and a woman to join together is an essential right of all people.
The next Commandment is "Thou shalt not steal". Taking something that doesn't belong to us is wrong. It deprives the other of their rightful property and impoverishes them, however much or little. This commandment, however, goes beyond just admonishing us not to take what doesn't belong to us - it also establishes the concept of personal property. What belongs to a person is that person's, and cannot be taken against his will without sin. This commandment creates two things: the right to own and possess personal property, and the right to be secure against the unlawful siezure or taking of that property.
The next Commandment is "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour". This means we are not to say anything false about another person, or that we shouldn't lie. It goes beyond that, however: we should never say anything that is untrue that would cause our neighbor harm, including gossip and inuendo. It means never saying anything untrue that would deprive our neighbor of any legitimate gain, or that would cause them to lose standing in the community. It means treating others with courtesy they deserve. Many of our own rights in the Bill of Rights derive from this commandment.
The next Commandment is "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s." What belongs to your neighbor is his, and none of your business. You should never covet what he has, because that diminishes what God has given to you, and shows that you are ungrateful for your blessings. It also undermines the rights of privacy and personal property. You don't NEED to know what your neighbor has, nor how he obtained it. Respect his rights that are equal to yours, and ignore lust, greed, and envy that might build inside you over his success. Those thoughts only poison your satisfaction in what you have.
Our Founding Fathers were very religious people. They read their Bibles regularly, studied what they read, and pondered the meaning behind the words. This is very evident in how Thomas Jefferson defined the role of Government among free men:
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. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Note that Thomas Jefferson says that rights are endowed upon us by our Creator, and that all of us are equally endowed with rights. These rights include, but are not limited to, Life (Thou shall not murder), Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson states in this document that the ONLY legitimate role of government among free men is to secure these individual rights, and to protect them from infringement. Note, too, that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL - meaning that no individual's exercise of his or her rights are to infringe upon the rights of any other.
Now let's look at our own Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This first right, the so-called "establishment" clause, is the most mis-interpreted clause in the entire Constitution. It simply means that Government cannot impose a religion upon us, or allow any individual to force a particular religious observation upon anyone else. We, within those limits, can do whatever we please to worship the God of our choice, or to NOT worship, if we so choose. We can even deny the existence of a god. What we cannot do is impose our views upon others, and force compliance with our wishes upon others. Somehow, that last sentence is lost on most secularists and others who attack religion in every aspect of our lives. Unless there is something forcing the observance of religious practices upon a person or group, there is no violation of this Amendment. Any time the Government forces any restriction on the right to worship, they are in violation of this Amendment.
"Free Speech" is another frequently-violated right. "Political Correctness" is a violation of free speech by forcing individuals and groups to work within specified artificial limits. Free speech means we can say anything we want, in any way we wish, as long as certain restrictions are observed: that the speech will not cause physical or financial harm to another (Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor), that it not incite others to violence or lawless behavior, and that if it is objectionable, that it be based upon truth, or the target of the speech may request redress through the justice system.
The same freedom is acknowledged as applying to the printed word as to the spoken word. This is the freedom of the press - to basically put the spoken word into print, with the same limitations.
The right to peacably assemble means that we may gather together in groups of any size for any purpose that doesn't incite others to violent or unlawful behavior, and doesn't inhibit the actions and behavior of others. We can gather in groups of tens of thousands, but not in the middle of a busy intersection, obstructing the free flow of traffic. We can gather in pairs within the confines of our homes, within public spaces, and anywhere else where our gathering doesn't infringe on the rights of others.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
The original meaning of the term "militia" was every able-bodies man between the age of 16 and 45. This right goes much further than just "protecting the state". It was meant as a check against the power of the State, and as a means of ensuring the protection of the life, liberty, and security of the individual. We have the right to defend ourselves from those that wish to limit our freedoms, to impose upon us unlawful restrictions, especially those that unlawfully restrict our individual freedoms. We have the right to overthrow the government, if necessary, to ensure that our freedoms are protected appropriately. Our Declaration of Independence clearly states; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Restricting the possession and ownership of weapons is the first step toward abolishing our right to establish a government of our choosing, and the overthrow of a government that is "destructive of these ends".
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The quartering of Government troops in the homes of individuals was something that happened before independence, and was quite destructive of personal freedom - not to mention usually destructive of the home and private fortune of the individual whose home was so abused. It's nice to limit the role of government in any way, but especially in this respect, which is destructive of so many other freedoms. There is little chance of this particular right being abused without all other rights being suspended as well.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This right guarantees that our personal property is ours, and can only be taken away from us by government within certain limited measures. It also guarantees us the privacy of our thoughts, of our written words, and our personal liberty. Today, many of these rights are being encroached upon in order to secure the most basic of rights, the right to life. There's also a graying of many areas by the rapid expansion of means of proliferating our papers, and the necessity of protecting ourselves against those that would use our rights as a shield for dangerous and destructive behavior. We've had to re-define "unreasonable" in many instances to ensure that protection. We'll probably have to make similar adjustments in the future. Those adjustments, as long as they're well-reasoned and necessary, will be tolerated. Anything else goes back to that second part of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
These rights require the government to show just cause, based upon evidence, that a person should be arrested and charged with a crime. The laws governing the Armed Forces provides equal protection for military members, but based upon a different set of rules. No one can be charged twice for the same crime, but may be charged in a civil court for redress when his or her behavior has caused another person to lose something of value. If the government takes any item of private property, regardless of what it is, they are required to provide "just compensation" to the owner for it. That usually means market value.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
We have the right to a fair trial. We have the right to hear the charges made against us, to see the evidence being presented, and to contest that evidence. We have the right to counsel, either paid for by ourselves, or if that's not possible, by the state. We have the right to a trial by an IMPARTIAL "jury of our peers" - I.E., one who has not been tainted by pre-trial publicity, or that has reached a conclusion before the trial is over, or that is predisposed toward a given verdict.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Pretty well self-explanatory.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The purpose of the judicial system is to provide justice. Excessive bail - bail far larger than the facts in the particular crime would justify, are unlawful. Excessive fines - beyond what justice would dictate or the crime would justify, are also unlawful (consider some of the class-action and medical malpractice lawsuits - this amendment is being poorly enforced). Cruel and unusual punishment is difficult to define, and may vary from case to case.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The rights delineated here are not all the rights the people possess, and the law is not to deny or disparage these other rights.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
This is the most ignored amendment in the Constitution. There are explicit powers delegated to the United States - approximately 33 to the Congress and a dozen or so to the Senate, significantly fewer to the President and the Judiciary. Most of the laws being enacted in Congress these days totally ignore the limited nature the founding fathers had for the Federal government, and usurp the rights of the States AND the people.
After all this, what exactly should we acknowledge as "universal" human rights? Here's my list, derived from the above writings:
- All rights belong to the individual. There is no such thing as a "group" right. Only when rights are accrued by individuals can rights be considered "equal". Every individual has the same rights, and may exercise them according to their wishes, within the bounds of never exercising their rights at the expense of the rights of others.
- The most universal right is the right to life. All other rights are subordinate to this. The rights of dead people are limited. The justification for taking a life must be limited, based upon solid evidence that a particular individual is a threat to the life AND well-being of others, and there is no other option available to adequately secure these rights.
- The individual has the right of personal liberty. This means the individual has the right to travel within his community, his nation, and elsewhere without unnecessary restrictions, and that such restrictions be based on evidence requiring the limitation. Within the community, the individual may exercise any and all other rights without restriction, within the limitations of not restricting the rights of any other.
- The individual has the right to accumulate items of personal property, and to be secure in the possession of that property. This includes the right to own land, the right to own and possess physical property, and the security of "intellectual property". The individual has the right to bequeath to others any personal property accumulated, according to his/her wishes, either before or after death, without restraint.
- The individual has the right of self-preservation, and the preservation of family members and personal property, in the face of unlawful behavior. We have the right to defend ourselves against those who would violate our individual rights, whether they be individuals, groups, or governments. We have the concurrent responsibility to be ready and able to justify our behavior to a jury of our peers if the exercise of this right is called into question.
- Individuals have the right to live under a government of their choice, one that respects the sum of their individual rights.
- Individuals have the right to exercise personal choice. This includes the right to choose to exercise a particular religion, or no religon; the right to work in a particular vocation or profession for which they are qualified; the right to purchase private property and live on it; the right to speak freely, as long as such speech does not cause physical, financial, or social harm to others; the right to publish their words in a public forum under the restrictions of libel and slander; the right to associate with those of his or her choosing, regardless of any outward or personal characteristic; and the right to demand that government and other groups limit themselves to the exercise of laws that do not unduly infringe upon personal rights or choices.
- The individual has the right to enter into binding agreements, including marriage, contracts, oaths, and other agreements, and to be expected to honor the commitments of the agreement. The individual has the right to expect others to honor their commitments, and to respect the individual and the individual's behavior within those agreements to satisfy his commitments, as long as no other individual's rights are compromised by them, or because of them.
- The individual has the right to succeed or fail in any appropriate endeavor without undue restraint. Individuals engaging in any acts for money, including unique creations, the creation of a business, the practice of a profession, or work within a vocation, cannot be guaranteed by government, bond, or other measures to be successful, nor will they be forced to meet outside demands for success. Persons engaged in behavior that may have an adverse effect on others, including those engaged in a vocation or a profession, may be held accountable for any failure on their part in practicing their vocation or profession, including those engaged in work within or for government.
- The individual has the right to expect that government will act to protect individual rights within the exercise of justice or law. This presupposes a definition of "justice" to mean the determination of violations of individual rights, the proof of injury by a particular individual or group, and a proper redress for that injury, including incarceration, restitution, and compensation. In the violation of taking another human life without sufficient justification, the penalty can include death where there is no hope of preventing the invididual from violating this principal right in the future, and no guarantee that they can be adequately removed permanently from society by any other means.
- Other rights other than those enumerated may exist, and must be recognized, as long as they meet two requirements: they are applicable to each and every person as an individual, and they do not restrict or curtail any enumerated right listed here.
For those who believe in the God of the Old Testament, they should have the right to worship their God as they see fit, including being excused without prejudice from working on the Sabbath, acknowledging and celebrating their respective religious holidays, and acting as they determine their religious teachings require them - without using their freedoms to impose any religious behavior on others. The same rights and limitations apply to any and all other religions. Those that violate these strictures shall be held to have violated the basic individual rights of others.