Thursday, September 20, 2007

Civics 101

I was driving to work today, and I was listening to talk radio, like I usually do on the way to work (Its just too darned early to listen to music), and my favorite morning show, Quinn and Rose was on ( An interesting statistic was brought up that asserted that a foreign student in our higher educational system, upon graduation, does not know any more about American history, or the government of the United States than they did when they got here. They went on to say, that an American student, upon reaching their fourth year of college, actually knew less than when they started college.

This, needless to say, disturbed me a bit, and got me to thinking. The train of thought was long, and had a few stops along the way, but where I ended up was this: What exactly are the rights of an American? We go about every day throwing the word "right" around quite carelessly. "He had no right to do that!" "I have a right to a job!" "I have a right to free healthcare!" "He had no right to offend me!" Okay, most readers of this blog are unlikely to actually say most of those things, but occasionally we get a real nutjob in here, like Josh from the Traitors post of last week.

So, what are the things that we as Americans actually have a Right to? I'm going to list a few, but if I miss any, please add them to the comments.

Religion and Free Expression: 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.

Organize and arm ourselves for defense: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

You may not be forced to provide shelter to soldiers: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Illegal and Improper searches are prohibited: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No involuntary self-incrimination: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

No Kangaroo Courts: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Trial by jury: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Punishment must fit the crime: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Natural rights retained by the people: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Habeas Corpus except in times of war or invasion.

The military is subservient to civil authority.

Treason powers of government are broadly checked.

Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited.

Adult citizens have sovereign franchise.

Our founding fathers decided that these were the minimum freedoms that had to be expressed in writing to have a free society. Note that you don't have a right to not be offended. You have no right not to be hated. You have no right to a job. You have no "right" to many things. Instead, what you are trying to say, is that you feel you are entitled to something. Well, bad news for you pal, but in the real world, you aren't entitled to much more than those things listed above.

You may, you know, just have to earn something on your merit. You may have to earn something by the force of your will, your merit, the sweat of your brow and the forces of fortune. Earn respect. Earn your fortune. In doing so you will improve your character.

What concerns me, is our tendency to try to legislate happiness and plenty on people who do not have the character to earn it. Every time we pass legislation that grants an entitlement to someone, two things happen. Our freedoms under the Constitution erode further and further toward the nightmare, nanny-state socialist hell that is Europe, and farther and farther from the vision of our founding fathers of a free nation where a citizen may rise according to their own merit to any level of society, limited only by their ambition and natural ability. The other is that the cycle of dependency grows--we feel more and more entitled to things--and thus act to legislate more and more. A vicious cycle.

My last, rambling, thought for the night is this: Many people look at the voting record of a legislator and marks his or her success by the new laws that were enacted while they were in office. I think that a legislator that went and spent their entire term and successfully prevented any new laws from making it to the books would have been more successful. Chew on that one in the comments.

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