People often speak of their Constitutional rights but sometimes make the mistake of assuming that the rights protected by the Bill of Rights -- such as the freedom of religion; freedom of speech and of the press; the right "to keep and bear arms"; the right "to be secure" in our "persons, houses, papers and effects" -- are given to us by our government. But a careful reading of the Constitution, as well as the Declaration of Independence, makes clear that these rights, as well as others not enumerated, are given to us by our Creator and the Bill of Rights was adopted to preserve those God-given rights from the encroachment of government.
For example, the First Amendment states: "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." The amendment does not give to us the right to believe and worship as we see fit, to speak freely our thoughts and opinions even if they are contrary to government policy, to publish news and information freely and without fear of government reprisal, to assemble peaceably or to petition the government. It assumes these rights are already ours and prohibits the government from doing anything to infringe upon those rights.
The Declaration of Independence couldn't be more clear on the source of our rights and the action to be taken when governments infringe upon them: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. -- That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed -- That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Notice who gives us our rights: God, our Creator. They are "unalienable." Governments cannot and should not try to take them away. What is the purpose of government? To protect these rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What right do the people have when a form of government becomes destructive of its God-given duty to protect God-given rights? To alter or abolish it and form a new government to effect our safety and happiness.
Note also that the "right of the people to keep and bear arms" is not government given. It is God-given, and government is prohibited from infringing upon this right. People have the right, from their Creator, to possess and use weapons to defend themselves against those who would unjustly take from them their lives, their property or their freedoms. And that includes governments which abuse their powers and take from the people their lives, their property or their freedoms.
The "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" is not granted us by the Constitution; it is protected by the Constitution and "shall not be violated." It is because God has given to us these rights, that government infringement is limited to the use of sworn probable-cause warrants, and government may only search in the specific place and only for the specific person or things to be seized.
And, are the rights listed in the Bill of Rights our only God-given rights? Not at all. These are specifically listed because they are rights upon which governments have often infringed throughout history and rights of the colonists upon which the British had frequently infringed.
My reason for pointing out this distinction? Yes, we all have Constitutional rights; but they are not granted to us by the Constitution; they are guaranteed to us and protected by the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights was not adopted to give us certain rights. It was adopted as a protection to limit government and to keep government from infringing upon our God-given rights.
Had the government given us our rights, the government could -- by legislation, executive order, judicial decision or Constitutional amendment -- take them away. But since our rights are God-given and unalienable, government has no authority to take them away or infringe upon them. And when governments do, the people have a right to alter and abolish such governments and institute a new form of government that will protect and defend the God-given rights of the people.
And, perhaps, we ought to consider what happens when we allow governments to infringe upon our God-given rights by restricting churches from holding services and Bible studies, limiting peaceable assemblies, silencing dissenting speech, accessing and searching the digital communications and private data of citizens, controlling or filtering the press, limiting the access of law-abiding citizens to weapons to defend themselves against criminals (or against a corrupt government), etc., etc.? Do you think these God-given rights will ever be restored and protected?
Randy Moll is the managing editor of the Westside Eagle Observer. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 05/20/2020
Print Headline: Constitutional rights not government-given