I have seen personal responsibility erode since the 1940s and 50s. Now rights are supreme. I have a right to build a mosque on Ground Zero. I have a right to kill an unborn child. I have a right to defame dead soldiers. I have a right to burn our flag. I have a right to goods and services I can't pay for and to a job for which I am not qualified. I have a right to judge the truth.
There's nothing wrong with rights, except when they are absolutized. The quickest way to demonize something is to absolutize it, remove its context, ignore its references and relationships, free it from the restrictions of reason and responsibility that make it appropriate and workable. Demonized rights look so righteous on the surface, but more often than not, they are harmful or destructive.
No right is absolute just as no citizen is autonomous. Rights, like laws, have to be interpreted internally (words, grammar, logic), and externally (within the broader context of custom and history, relationships and responsibilities). To exercise rights is related to being and doing right. Religious freedom, for example, is not an absolute right to be exercised apart from common decency. Freedom of the press is not an absolute right to be exercised without common sense.
As an American, I believe that no humanbeing or agency has the authority to alienate the natural rights granted me by my Creator. However, I may forfeit them when my behavior diminishes or disregards the similar rights of others.
We so don't hear much about such truths these days, so let me briefly spell out four basics: 1. There are no rights without responsibilities. 2. There is no life without limits. 3. There is no liberty without self-control. 4. The pursuit of happiness is not without risks.
The American way was built on these steppingstones. There is no American way without them.
Yes, we are all endowed by our Creator with certain in alienable rights. Yes, the Constitution protects the right of all citizens to pursue happiness, but it does not make the immoral moral, or the unacceptable righteous, or require the rest of us to bow the knee before perverts. That requires interpretive slight of hand and political card tricks that go beyond the Constitution.
The News-Sentinel editorial of February 1, 2017, correctly states that our founders intended the First Amendment to protect “citizens' right to speak out on political issues.” But since 1791, the Supreme Court has been moving us “beyond actual speech to symbolic speech” and “first amendment rights” have come to sanctify rioting, destroying property blocking roads, looting and violence in the name of “free speech.”
Our Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are equally endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. But he also endows us with equal responsibility towards the law. We are free to change laws through democratic procedures, but not to disobey them. That obligation is binding on all citizens, even when they are unhappy or dissatisfied with the way things are going.
As an American citizen, I believe that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are bestowed on us by the Creator.
But the right to pursue happiness cannot be exercised apart from common decency. Any liberty which deprives others of their legitimate privileges is not a right, but a sin or crime. And life which justifies misleading people with personal lies or fake news demeans the common good and the divine will.
The natural rights from God are implemented with sound thinking and proper behavior. Other rights are little more than convenient fictions. They maybe politically useful or serve to excuse depravity and villainy, but, in anycase, they have no real social or moral value.
John Ribar is a resident of Fort Wayne.