Thanks for the response. You are an educated man. Whether that means diplomas on the wall or a self motivated person who has paid attention to the world around him, you seem to have a handle on things and I seem to agree with you on much of that. That said, I will offer my opinion when I can or clarity when I can.
I’m glad you went to the Declaration of Independence first when referencing rights because that document gives the foundation for all else. The Declaration of Independence is the “why” of our existence as a free nation and the Constitution is the “how” of our free nation. The constitution specifically mentions a few rights but we have more than the ten rights it mentions. In my opinion the Declaration of Independence mentions them all (in non-specific terms).
The Declaration of Independence mentions the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You mentioned that there are “other natural rights such as the right to survival, procreation, self-defense, and many other issues that a civil society may aid but does not grant.” In my opinion the right to “life” as stated in the Declaration of Independence encompasses these “other natural rights” you mention.
The “right to survival” is included in the right to “life” for obvious reasons. The “right to procreation” is also included in the right to “life” because without procreation, “life” stops. The “right to self-defense” is also included in the right to “life” because without the “authority” to defend yourself, “life” stops. My point is that ALL rights are included in the Declaration of Independence, albeit in general terms.
Furthermore, it is my opinion that this is where the distinction between “rights” and “privileges” is made. If my neighbor has a “right” then I have an obligation (whereas if my neighbor has a “privilege” I do not then have a corresponding obligation). My neighbor has a right (specifically) to freedom of speech and while morally there is a responsibility that goes along with that freedom of speech, technically there is not.
My neighbor can even use his creator-endowed and constitutionally-protected freedom of speech to yell “fire” in a crowded theater (think about it, if the theater is on fire, nobody is going to tell him he is wrong). My obligation to the protected right of my neighbor is that I cannot interfere with his “right” and I must allow him to speak (the case is easier to make when it is the government interfering, but if this happens between private persons and one disagrees, the government can and will get involved and that is where the protection of rights comes into play).
What my neighbor cannot do, and the ONLY reason he cannot do it (because it then becomes a limitation on his protected right to free speech) is he cannot intentionally (or even reasonably) cause two hundred people to hit the door at the same time because if they do, someone will get killed and the person who is killed by the mob will then have had his right to life denied; at this point wrongdoing has occured.
In other words, when it comes to “rights” the ONLY limitation to those rights (excluding the convicted felon) is my rights. Your rights cannot interfere with my rights and vice versa.
Again, he can yell “fire” all he wants in the crowded theater without any wrongdoing but the minute someone gets hurt or dies because of the yelling of “fire” which caused a highly-excited crowd to hit the doors en masse resulting in that injury or death, a wrongdoing has been committed.
For clarity, if the theater is truly on fire and my neighbor yells “fire” and because of his warning 100 people survived who otherwise would probably have died, even though three people died when they were crushed by the mob at the door, there isn’t a jury that would convict. My neighbor in this case would be a hero.
The thing to take from this is that we have a “right” to do just about anything we want to do because just about anything we want to do will fall under “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” No law can limit those rights (exception in a minute). The ONLY true limit to those rights exists when your exercise of your rights interferes with my exercise of my rights.
Here is the exception and if you think about it this is reasonable: If reasonable people will conclude that the yelling of “fire” in a crowded theater, especially one that is NOT on fire, will cause harm or death to innocent people, then those reasonable people have reason to establish a law against the yelling of “fire” in that crowed theater.
Another good example: if getting drunk and then driving 90 miles per hour on the highway is how you want to pursue your “happiness” then by what measure of decency, law, reasonableness, etc, does the government (County, City, State) have the authority to interfere? Simple, reasonable people will conclude that the drunk driver stands a better than average chance of killing you and your family in a car crash and that would violate every one of your “rights.”
Those “rights” which you were just denied, by the way, are the same rights the government is duty bound by sworn oath to protect. The problem is obvious in that while this may be how the driver pursues his happiness, once he loses control and is heading for your car, certain death is going to result because after a certain point the chain of events cannot be stopped. This would mean breaking the laws of physics.
The only way to protect your right to “life” and the rest of the rights you would lose when he hits you is to take preemptive action to prohibit, via law, all drivers from driving drunk and using excessive speed. A government imposed speed limit is not an interference of your rights, rather it is a reasonable effort by the governing body who is constitutionally responsible to protect and guarantee your rights, to do just that. We have yet to figure out how to defy the laws of physics although I am sure somebody somewhere is trying.
I think I probably went farther than necessary to illustrate my point but I think it is a very important point. If this concept is understood then even the common and uneducated man (like me, LOL) can rationalize with a high degree of accuracy the legality, or constitutionality of any given law. If a law does not support the concept described above then there is probably reason to question it.
You correctly quote Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and then offer the notion that this extends our “privileges or immunities” to non citizens. If this amendment is taken by itself, because of its lack of clarity, you could possibly draw that conclusion. However, elsewhere we find that the constitution itself is the supreme law of the land.
The constitution, without amendments, was passed all at the same time. Yes, over time by states but it was not enacted in a piecemeal fashion meaning that it meant nothing yesterday when the Articles of Confederation prevailed, and means everything today and the Articles of Confederation do not count.
The Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. The yet unwritten Bill of Rights, although redundant with the Declaration of Independence was agreed to become part of the original document as a means to acquire the requisite number of signatures.
All subsequent laws were required to have authority from the constitution. This means that if the congress passed a law and the president signed that law but the congress had no authority to make the law in the first place then congress was acting outside its constitutional authority and therefore it was not itself a recognized authority. In this case the law even though signed by the president, is unconstitutional.
My point: the purpose of this country as a nation, and the sole purpose for having a government of this nation is to do nothing other than guarantee the protection of our freedoms (I make this sound simple but it is a daunting task). This tells me that the very reason for the United States of America to exist is for the sole benefit of the people of the United States.
In other words, the purpose of the United States is not to further the goals of the French. If a French citizen happens to be in the United States visiting friends or relatives, he does NOT have the “right” to vote for, or participate in our government in any manner just because he happens to be present in this country, and Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment does not extend to that Frenchman these “rights” and “privileges.” I offer this as my heartfelt debate and not a personal attack so please take it accordingly.
The only thing left to discuss is what I believe constitutes a “privilege.” Your rights are, in general but very accurate terms, that of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I discussed the limits of those rights and there aren’t many; suffice it to say that your “rights” are limited only by my rights.
What then is a “privilege?” A privilege is anything that is neither a right, nor a law that prohibits a certain action. Example: You do not have a “right” to drive a car. If driving a car was a “right” then you would be hard-pressed to prohibit the blind, or drunk, or mentally incompetent, or even under-aged people from driving. As long as you meet all the criteria established by society to drive (age, license, safe car, sobriety, ability to see and control the car, etc) then you have the “privilege” to drive within those established rules.
Note that a police officer, who is not a judge and jury, can completely stop and forcefully prevent you from driving and do it on the spot and he can do it for violation of a law that you might never have heard about. If driving was your “right” he would have to offer complete due process (trial on the side of the road with witnesses, perhaps expert witnesses etc, in which you are innocent until proven guilty).
If driving is a “right” then how can you justify denying the three year old child her “right” to drive (remember that all men (and women) are created equal). By the same token, if voting is a “right” then how do you justify denying that same three year old child her “right” to vote? You can deny these things because they are “privileges” not “rights.”
The problem with voting is that it is inherent in self-rule and that is how this country was designed. This self-rule is the difference between free people and non-free people. If there ever was a “privilege” that could be used (in most cases) interchangeably with a “right” it would be voting.
This is what makes this a difficult topic, although a very important topic. Think “voter-id” laws and the protection of the integrity of your right as an “American” (see comment below) to control your government – government of the people, not United States Government by the French people.
By the way Peter, you got me on the “American” thing, I use that term interchangeably with United States citizens but I take it farther and add a dose of patriotism to the “American” that the “citizen” should but might not have. However, technically this could include South Americans. Not my intent but you win the point.
Good discussion/debate. I am learning both from what you present and from my own research to reply.