Unalienable Rights

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_StatesDanmillerinPanama wrote an excellent article yesterday called Freedom of Speech is not Free; it is Beyond Price. In it, he highlights the fact that

When Roberson’s unit commander discovered that Rodriguez would be delivering the flag-folding speech, which mentions “God,” during the ceremony, he attempted to prevent Rodriguez from attending. After learning that he lacked authority to prevent Rodriguez from attending, the commander then told Roberson that Rodriguez could not give the speech. Rodriguez asked Roberson what he should do, and Roberson responded that it was his personal desire that Rodriguez give the flag-folding speech as planned. . . .

My instant reaction to this sort of nonsense is to wonder what part of the Air Force mission it is to police speech, and if it might be better to use its time to defend America, rather than attack Air Force personnel.

But as Dan and I have both said many times, the founders had a few things to say on the subject, as well. Like this.

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.

Emphasis mine. That seems like pretty clear language, after all. Hard for even a lawyer to turn Congress shall make no law into the Air Force may suppress any mention of God. Not that they can’t manage it, they just can’t justify it to anybody who understands that 2+2=4.

But there is something else here as well. The construction of the amendments is also important. Congress shall make no law…tells us several things, protecting free speech was important enough to be mentioned in our foundational law, the Constitution is a good start, but it is only the beginning.

But the wording says Congress can’t infringe it, it does not say Congress shall grant all Americans the right of Free Speech. Madison wrote it that way for a reason, free speech is a right that inheres each and every person, from God most of us believe, or nature or whatever, but it is not the state’s to grant, nor is it the state’s to refuse. This goes back to Jefferson in American practice with this

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, …

Jefferson likely drew this formulation from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government.

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions… (and) when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

There’s considerably more of this, and better than my writing on it at Unalienable Rights, by Robert Curry at Claremont.

To get to the correct answer to this question, we need to remember what the Constitution does. It defines how the federal government is to function—and the very purpose of government, according to the Founders, is to secure our unalienable rights. Consequently, unalienable rights are senior to, on a higher level than, even the Constitution itself. The sequence in logic goes like this:

• Unalienable Rights first
• Then the Constitution: the Framers’ (brilliant) design for a government to fulfill the purpose of government by securing our unalienable rights.

The Constitution is all about defining and dispersing the powers of government. It is fundamentally a design for limiting the government, limiting it precisely in order to secure our unalienable rights from people in government who would try to violate our rights. As Jefferson said, “let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

And frankly in not understanding this very point is where all of Europe, increasingly including Great Britain, has gone wrong. Because it’s common sense that what the government gives, the government can take away, and in many cases, free speech is one of the things that government really likes to take away. It’s so important, that Madison put it right at the top of the list, because if we can’t speak of things, we can’t affect them either.

How important is the American example in helping freedom to flourish around the world?

Well, Christopher Monckton of Brenchley recently wrote this:

“Your Majesty, with my humble duty, I was born in a democracy; I do not live in one; but I am determined to die in one.”

And now I shall die in one. In the words of William Pitt the Younger after the defeat of Napoleon, “England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.”

The people have spoken. And the democratic spirit that inspired just over half the people of Britain to vote for national independence has its roots in the passionate devotion of the Founding Fathers of the United States to democracy. Our former colony showed us the way. Today, then, an even more heartfelt than usual “God bless America!”


Updated because I forgot to link Monckton speech. You’ll find it here.

Authored By nebraskaenergyobserver

Comments are closed.