The Left is Wrong About Rights

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”

Thomas Jefferson
Engraved on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Thomas Jefferson
The Declaration of Independence

There are two important things to note about the rights guaranteed us by the Constitution. The first is that the Constitution doesn’t “grant” us any rights. Instead, it speaks of rights already in existence (unalienable and endowed by our creator, according to the Declaration of Independence) and explicitly prohibits the government from infringing on those rights. The second is that each of the rights explicitly spelled out in the Constitution is personal.

Liberals tend to talk about rights in terms of what others must give you: a “living wage,” health care, housing, or even an abortion. These liberal “rights” get things exactly backwards. The only way one person can have a right to something that someone else must provide is for the provider to be forced to provide it, regardless of his consent.

The liberals on the Supreme Court, in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, recently struck down the eminently-sensible Texas law that ensured safe conditions for women seeking abortions. Their “reasoning” was that the law unreasonably restricted women’s access to abortions. Let’s think about that logically for a moment. The Supreme Court, citing a “right” that is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, has said that it is unconstitutional to restrict a woman’s access to abortion.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose that all the abortionists in the country suddenly decided to move to Australia. Or, in an unfortunately less-likely scenario, let’s suppose that every abortionist suddenly developed a conscience and realized that they had been murdering innocent children and repented, refusing to perform any more abortions. Could anything restrict a woman’s access to abortion more than that? What then of this supposed “right” for a woman to get an abortion? Is it really possible that the Supreme Court, or Congress, or even a State Legislature could somehow prohibit this mass-exodus of abortionists? I can just see Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagan at JFK airport looking for that last abortionist and tackling him before he can board that last flight out. The logical conclusion is that the supposed “right” to abortion is no right at all.

Is there a “right” to housing? How can that possibly be when someone must build the house? And who decides what kind of house? Do you have the right to three bedrooms or only two? A cape in the suburbs or a brownstone in the city? If you have the right to a “living wage,” who decides what that is? How hard do you have to work to receive it? How good do you have to be at your job? Does a “living wage” include cable TV and a cell phone?

It simply cannot be that anyone can have a right to something that someone else must provide. The truth is that liberals are not interested in rights as our founders understood them. They invent “rights” for one of two reasons. Either they are trying to force people to behave a certain way or they are trying to buy votes from people who care more about what government can give them than protecting themselves against what government can do to them. Anyone who supports this approach cannot claim to “support and defend the Constitution.”


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