Human Events Blog

Nothing is inalienable


On Monday, a U.S. District Court judge struck down a Maryland gun law with a remarkably worded ruling, as related by the Baltimore Sun:

In a 23-page memorandum opinion, made public Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Benson E. Legg said a state requirement forcing those applying for a gun-carry permit to show that they have a “good and substantial reason” to do so “impermissibly infringes the right to keep and bear arms,” as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

“A citizen may not be required to offer a ‘good and substantial reason’ why he should be permitted to exercise his rights,” Legg wrote. “The right’s existence is all the reason he needs.”

Wow, is this guy ever out-of-step with the times!  What is this crazy talk of God-given inalienable rights, which the government is absolutely forbidden to transgress?  Everyone knows that all rights are gifts of the State, to be redistributed or rescinded as the ruling class sees fit.

For example, no American citizen has anything approaching an absolute right to property.  “Progressive taxation” is explicitly premised on the notion that increasing levels of income result in a sharply attenuated right to retain the fruits of your own labor and investment.  In the wake of the Kelo vs. City of New London decision, it was decided that the government can seize your property, not in response to some desperate national emergency, but because it thinks it can use the property more effectively than you can, for “the greater good.”

Or look at the big story bubbling through the news right now, in which our wondrous new government-run health insurance system feels free to discard the religious sensibilities of certain Americans, in order to impose its superior wisdom in the matter of compulsory provision of birth control supplies.  This edict is based on the precise opposite of Judge Legg’s ruling.  Those stuffy old Catholics can’t show any “good and substantial reason” for exercising their religious conscience – not one that compares to the supposedly urgent need of students for “free” contraception in the eyes of the Obama commissars, at any rate – and so their objections are summarily dismissed. 

The ObamaCare mandate in question makes a distinction between actual houses of worship, and institutions (such as Georgetown University or Catholic hospitals) run by religious organizations.  In other words, churches themselves do have “good and substantial reason” for refusing to buy birth control, if it runs contrary to their teachings, but not operations run by the churches.  Cleary, the existence of a right to religious expression is not “all the reason you need” to get out of paying for other peoples’ condoms.

What happens if a religious organization defies the commissars, and refuses to surrender its First Amendment rights?  According to a report in Life News today, “Republicans in Congress asked the Congressional Research Service to examine the new mandate and the consequences for employers that do not want to follow it because it would violate their consciences and CRS issued a document finding noncompliant employers could face federal fines of $100 per day per employee.”  Nothing that costs you a hundred bucks in fines per day is “inalienable.”

You had better forget all about the word “inalienable,” because an expanding State has no use for speed-bump “rights” which limit its ability to act.  The program to re-educate Americans away from such an understanding of rights has been in progress for decades, and it’s worked extremely well.  That’s one of the reasons we should be uneasy with the notion of Republicans campaigning against ObamaCare entirely because it’s unconstitutional.  Of course it is, to the point of being a satirical exercise in Constitution-shredding.  Sure, the Founders would have blessed a gigantic government program that forces citizens to buy stuff from other citizens, under the threat of legal penalty!

The problem is that much of the public has been trained to reflexively discard the notion that benevolent government power should be thwarted by arbitrary limits.  The wise and wonderful State should not be prevented from addressing the vital needs of some citizens, because of an ancient obligation to respect the inalienable rights of others… especially when those others have lots of money.  In other words, the hated Evil Rich cannot demonstrate “good and substantial reasons” why their rights should be respected.

Besides, the modern American citizen has been educated to perceive “positive rights” as physical gifts, bestowed by the State: the “right” to free health care, free condoms, and so forth.  Such “rights” can only be fulfilled through the exercise of compulsive force.  Absolutely nothing is “free,” but many things can be made compulsory.  Understand the difference, and you’ll understand why, contrary to the beautifully stated ruling of Judge Legg, the transcendent existence of your rights is no longer all the reason you need to justify holding on to them.


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