Wrong Rights

Washington Times 7.20.99
Balint Vazsonyi

When something is forbidden, a right to do something is taken away. All right, I hear some people say, but along with all the new prohibitions, we have gained a whole battery of new rights.


The Bill of Rights contains not a single provision which grants or concedes a right to anyone by taking something from another. It does not even grant rights, really, it rather affirms their pre-existence. All restrictions in those first ten amendments to our Constitution are placed on government - not a single constraint on individuals or The People at large.

There were good reasons for that. First, the Framers believed in the virtue of very few laws - the fewer the laws, the broader the natural agreement about them. More importantly, their purpose was to make equal standing before the law not just a goal but reality, for only the law is able to ameliorate the inequality of humans.

Now look at the rights' industry of the last decades.

The new rights are being granted by government to specific classes of persons. For a start, no provision in the Constitution appears to buttress the concept of rights applicable to specific classes of persons. Even more importantly, every so-called right is a restriction on all others not included in the provision.

In other words, all new rights give to some what they take from others. And if they do not take directly, they provide a license to some to raid the possessions of others - using, misusing, really, the courts.

All new rights carry the message, "you Americans cannot be trusted to do the right thing."

How else can we explain the thousands of laws and regulations that form the basis for a growing number of persons to get others expelled, fired, jailed - or simply intimidated, forced into submission?

The right of one to be offended robs another of the right to free speech. The right of one to a university admission despite a low score robs another of a place fairly earned. The right to a government contract despite a high bid robs another of the right to compete.

Every single entitlement relies on the confiscation of another's property.

We have civil rights, human rights, women's rights, children's rights, rights of the disabled - sorry: differently-abled - gender rights, gay-lesbian rights, animal rights, rights of persons with limited English proficiency, and environmental rights. "Patients' rights" are about to be added.

If we care about the rule of law, we have to accept that all these "rights" run counter to it. None has a foundation in the Constitution of the United States because the Constitution deals with the rights of "The People" or of "persons" - not groups. The rights cited above represent the primary threat to the rule of law precisely because they give the appearance of being made of the same cloth as proper law, even though they are not. They may have been placed on the books, they may have been properly voted upon by Congress, they may, even, have been affirmed by the Supreme Court, and yet they will never be legitimate under the rule of law.

The remedy for anyone denied genuine, legitimate, constitutional rights - such as peaceable assembly - is in the strict interpretation, observance and enforcement of those rights. The remedy is not entitlement to more.

"Title" forms the core of the word "enTITLEment." It is a good bet that any time reference is made to a "Title" followed by a roman numeral (just now, Title IX is much in the news), we are looking at an entitlement, not a constitutional right.

How far we have strayed from the rule of law has been demonstrated in a recent 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court listed as "Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education." The full weight, the assembled wisdom, the unparalleled majesty of the highest judicial authority ever devised by free men was brought to bear upon the pre-pubescent antics of a ten-year-old boy which, in a sane world, would have received short shrift from educators and parents.

"...In early February," we read in the opinion penned by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "G.F. purportedly placed a door stop in his pants and proceeded to act in a sexually aggressive manner toward LaShonda..." (A girl of the same age.)

But that would only make the participation of the Supreme Court a farce. What makes it a further threat to our future is that the decision creates yet more "rights" - entitlements, really - for the litigious to raid the tills of school systems through private lawsuits.

No wonder people come to believe in earnest that there is a right to education, a right to healthcare, a right to housing, a right to a secure retirement. Those, of course, are all desirable things. But they cost money.

None of the rights in the Constitution costs money.

So how's that for a rule of thumb? If it costs money, it cannot be a right - it's an entitlement. If it takes from another, it cannot be a right - it's confiscation. Entitlements and confiscation are concepts alien to the U.S. Constitution, to the rule of law.

Where entitlements and confiscation are perfectly at home is in the world of economic justice, environmental justice, social justice.

Read all about them on the web site of the Socialist International.