Rights are not subject to public opinion polls

“I have a right!”  How many times have you heard that statement?  There’s another:  “Majority rules.”  The problem is that people try to join them together.   If you, and a majority of people believe that something should happen – say, being able to criticize the government – then it’s “a right.”  But if a majority of people think that the government shouldn’t be criticized, then the minority doesn’t “have the right” to do so.    Rights don’t work that way.  They are not subject to majority rules.    They apply whether or not it’s popular with the majority.    It exists even – or more particularly,  especially – if you’re in the minority.

The first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called “the Bill of Rights.”  They are the written, specific rights given to the people of this country.  Here’s the First:

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.

Notice any statements about “when the majority agrees with it” in there?  Anything about “any Christian religion” or “when you’re saying something I like?”   I don’t, and it’s because there aren’t any.  They are direct, no ifs, ands, or buts statements that expressly limits government.   It’s great when you agree, and you get to say “They have a right to say that.”  It’s much tougher when you don’t agree.

That’s the problem.  No where is it demonstrated better than with the recent protests over the building of a Muslim Center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site.  The people protesting had the right to do so – it’s the “peaceably to assemble” part.  The problem?  The first sentence of that amendment.   Up until recently,  the Cordoba House wasn’t an issue.  It’d been approved by a range of local government authorities, and even met with the approval of most of the nearby residents.  Then it became a “hot button” issue for various national “conservative” groups.   The rhetoric has gotten particularly ugly, and a number of them are not supporting what they are supposed to be supporting.   There are any number of public opinion polls which will tell you that “the majority” of the American people are against the project.   To which,  I must say:  So what? Plainlyspoken has written about supporting President Obama’s statement regarding this, even though he disagrees with the President on most things.  Let quote someone I disagree with on many things:

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society–protecting liberty.
The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservative’s aggressive wars.

(The bolding is mine) I don’t always agree with Dr. Ron Paul, but when he’s right, he’s right – and he’s right here.   Interestingly enough, my friend Leanne wrote a tongue-in-cheek post arguing for the banning of Christian churches.  Which has a serious point – what if the shoe were on the other foot?  What if this were a protest against building a church?   Dr. Paul has some harsh words about various conservatives:

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.
Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

Various groups and politicians, motivated by the potential for political gain, bigotry, fear, or combination of them, are not defending rights, they are leading an assault on them.  They claim that they’re speaking for the majority.  The problem?  If something depends only on the majority being in favor of it, it’s a privilege, not a right. You can take away a privilege, but you can’t take away a right, except under very limited circumstances (the “due process of law” parts).  It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, or whether a majority agrees with you.  Rights are not subject to public opinion polls.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Rights are not subject to public opinion polls

  1. Nicely said Norbrook.

    Somewhere in the past Americans have stopped honestly looking at the rights in the Constitution as applying equally to all (and in my life I have been guilty of this as well).

    If the issue was evaluated in that manner first then in all honesty everyone would have to support the rights of the group and we would have this extreme agitation over the issue.

    The only sensitivity missing in this whole issue is the sensitivity to support the protected rights of the Constitution.

    • Everyone is guilty of that at times. There have been cases where it was only well after the fact that I accepted that my agreement with the people who were stomping on the right of someone (or group) I disliked was wrong. It’s never easy, but it’s not meant to be.