Sunday, May 15, 2011

What are rights?

By our very endowment as children of an Eternal Father, we have had implanted within our souls the urgency to be free. It is natural for us to want to be accountable for our own fates, because there is a whispering within us confirming that this accountability is absolutely essential to the attainment of our eternal destiny. — Dean L. Larsen (Ensign, May 1980)

The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. — John F. Kennedy

All men are, or ought to be free, possessing unalienable rights, and the high and noble qualifications of the laws of nature and of self-preservation, to think, and act, and say as they please, while they maintain a due respect to the rights and privileges of all other creatures, infringing upon none. — Joseph Smith (History of the Church 5:156)

A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate. — Thomas Jefferson (Rights of British America, 1774)

It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights – the "right" to education, the "right" to health care, the "right" to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery – hay and a barn for human cattle. — Alexis de Tocqueville
For several decades, Americans have had a distorted understanding of rights and privileges. This distortion is often deliberate. Here are some clarifications:

▪ In most countries, rights are considered to be permissions and gifts granted by the government. There are many in the US who share this belief.
▪ On the other hand, our nation’s founders believed that rights are freedoms given to us by God because we are His children and because we are created in His image. They expressed this belief in the Declaration of Independence: "....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."
▪ The Declaration of Independence goes on to say that " secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...." Note that the nation is founded to protect God-given rights -- not to grant them nor to restrict them.
▪ Rights are freedoms we’re entitled to based on our citizenship.
▪ Rights include whatever one is not prohibited to do or have.
▪ Rights possessed by one person do not come at a cost to any other person. (I do not have a right to demand you to pay any of my bills – including health care -- directly or through taxation. My right to swing my arm ends at the tip of your nose.)
▪ If you have to ask permission, it's not a right it's a privilege.
▪ Rights can be forfeited due to criminal acts.
▪ Rights can be forfeited if not exercised.
▪ Rights can be taken if we elect politicians who restrict our rights.
▪ Examples of rights: freedom of speech, freedom or religion, freedom to bear arms, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, right to privacy, property rights.

▪ A privilege is an immunity or benefit granted to, and enjoyed by, a person beyond the advantages of other people under certain conditions.
▪ Privileges are acts we are allowed to do and things we are allowed to possess.
▪ Privileges are extra benefits given to a person or group.
▪ Privileges must be earned or gifted or purchased.
▪ Privileges often come at a cost to others such as teenager driving a parent’s car or driving on a highway paid for at taxpayer expense.
▪ Privileges can be lost due to abuse by self or others.
▪ Privileges can be lost if not exercised.
▪ Privileges can be lost if we elect politicians who restrict our privileges.
▪ Examples of privileges: driving a car, hunting, building a house, engaging in occupations which require licensing such as medicine or law.
▪ Over time, we the people have allowed (sometimes demanded) government to convert some rights to privileges. For example, in times past, anyone could start and run a business or build a house. Today, one must first obtain government permission (a license) and comply with certain laws. In many jurisdictions, owning a firearm is no longer a right. Instead, one must first obtain government permission (a license). Possession of certain types of firearms and accessories (ie machine guns) requires government permission (a license).

▪ Responsibility means accountability.
▪ Responsibility means accepting consequences for one's own actions or inaction.
▪ Responsibility is a duty to control one's own life and behavior.
▪ Responsibility means not blaming others for one’s own failures.
▪ Responsibility means making good decisions.
▪ Responsibility means not expecting or demanding that they are entitled to be a burden upon other persons or on any organization, including the government.
▪ Responsibility means selflessly, voluntarily, and cheerfully helping those who truly need our help (D&C 42:30-31) while rejecting the idea that they can default that responsibility to others or to government. The more selfish a person is, the more that person tends to expect the government to take care of the needy. Jesus gave that responsibility to individuals -- not to the Caesar (the government).
▪ Responsibility means we use our rights and privileges wisely and without infringing the rights and privileges of others. For example, our right of free speech includes the responsibility to not lie. Our privilege to drive or to run a business includes the responsibility to obey the laws related to those activities. Our privilege to hunt does not include a right or privilege to waste game or to be cruel.

▪ Ethical behavior is doing what is right and fair and safe.
▪ Being ethical means respecting the rights, privileges, needs, and feelings of others.
▪ Being ethical means obeying laws. Some acts are legal, but still morally wrong and therefore unethical.
▪ Being ethical means being consistent with agreed or culturally-established principles of correct moral conduct.

How well people understand these concepts affects how they vote and how they behave. It affects how they expect and allow government to behave and treat our rights.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee. — Hosea 4:6

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. — John F. Kennedy

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. — Thomas Jefferson
Less than half the people in our republic pay all the income taxes in this nation. The rest of the people simply consume the services (free health care, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc.) funded by the rest. These people have no "skin in the game" when judging the ethical fitness of politicians and dependency-enabling programs they legislate. They (and the big-government politicians they vote for) call these services "entitlements" as if non-producers and under-producers are entitled to the fruits of the labors of others. Expecting others to involuntarily pay the bills (healthcare, housing, food, etc.) of non-producers, especially through government programs, conflicts with the teaching of Jesus (D&C 42:42). Doing so robs the recipient of his soul and the taxpayer of the blessings of charity.
The poor have been used as human shields behind which the expanding welfare state can advance. The goal is not to keep the poor from starving but to create dependency, because dependency translates into votes for politicians who play Santa Claus. We have all heard the old saying about how giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, while teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime. Independence makes for a healthier society, but dependency is what gets votes for politicians. For politicians, giving a man a fish every day of his life is the way to keep getting his vote. 'Entitlement' is just a fancy word for dependency." --economist Thomas Sowell
The people and their representatives must come to understand the differences between rights and privileges and responsibilities and the differences between charity and government "entitlements" (handouts). Only when they do so will the needy rise out of multi-generation dependence on the dole -- which they erroneously view as their right.
The language Congress uses to describe their spending is corrupt beyond redemption. Think about the term entitlement. If one American is entitled to something he didn't earn, where in the world does Congress get the money? It's not Santa or the Tooth Fairy. The only way Congress can give one American a dollar is to first take it from another American. Therefore, an entitlement is a congressionally given right for one American to live at the expense of another. In other words, Congress forcibly uses one American to serve the purposes of another American. As such, it differs in degree, but not kind, from that uglier part of our history where black people were forcibly used to serve the purposes of their slave masters. — Walter E Williams, Economist
Americans, in general, are generous people -- the most charitable on Earth -- a direct result of our founders' understanding of, and efforts to protect, our rights as well as our Judeo-Christian heritage. Americans are being deprived of the opportunity to be as charitable and they could be due to the fact that far too much of the fruits of their labors are diverted by force (taxation) to provide for intentional non-producers, intentional underachievers, and the bureaucracies that support their slothfulness. That is what happens when rights are infringed and privileges become rights.

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