FROM WHENCE RIGHTS COME
There is no more basic precept underlying the American republic than that expressed in our Declaration of Independence: rights come from God, not from government. The very notion of Divine Right of Kings, rejected by the Founding generation, held the opposite to be true: that government, in the form of an absolute monarch, received rights from God but that the people subservient to the King and his government exercised rights only by leave of the King. As with John Locke, Americans of the revolution held it to be a truth “self-evident,” as the Declaration states, that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” including, but not limited to, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
It should inspire revulsion, then, when a public school teaches youth not this basic Founding principle but, instead, that rights come from government and that rights are not rights at all but privileges. On this theory, government having conveyed rights may withdraw them, because they are in fact not rights but privileges.
This is apparently the teaching of Fairfield North Elementary School in Fairfield, Ohio. As reported by Brandon Morse on the “Rare” news feed of November 20, a second grade class assignment included representations that “rights are special privileges the government gives you” and “the government gives you rights.”
Nowhere in America should a public school teach not only a falsehood of this nature but one destructive of the very notion of rights. We, among all peoples of the world, may declare that for the first time in world history it was our Republic, born of Lockean principles, that stood for the proposition that governments are instituted among men to protect the rights of the governed (that is their very purpose), and that rights precede government, are each person’s birthright, and cannot but by tyranny be taken away from us.
All those within the school responsible for this foundational error should not be in the education business. No person educating eight year olds in a public institution should teach such a profound falsehood to our youth.
The opportunity to teach youth of the origin of rights and of the American conception of just government is a precious one indeed. In the New Nation period, mothers took that responsibility very seriously, inculcating into their youth the story of the American Revolution, a rights revolution, and inspiring them to understand the fundamental truth that we are endowed by God, not government, with rights at birth and that no government may remove those rights from us because they are unalienable. It is not we who are privileged to exercise rights in the face of government but government that is privileged to serve us, the possessors of rights. There is no pursuit of government that is legitimate beyond that of protecting individual rights. If a government function does not tie back to that rights protective foundation, it is illegitimate.
Our Constitution is one of limited powers, limited precisely to ensure that none would be properly construed as supportive of a function other than one that protects individual rights. The educational message that arises from our Founding history is one of right and power being inextricably linked. The people are the ultimate sovereign under a Constitution that is predicated on an act of the people to create it, as the Preamble makes clear. Just governments depend on the consent of the governed in recognition that the governed are the true sovereigns. Our bill of rights is but a small subset of the universe of rights, a non-exhaustive list of rights that government is denied a power to alter or abridge.
For these reasons, it painfully strikes to the very heart of civics education in America for a teacher to be so profoundly ignorant of our Founding as to press upon students the false notion that in America rights are from government and that rights are not rights at all but privileges. That backward thinking (resurrected from the Divine Right of Kings) is an affront to the great men of the American Revolution, including Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison; indeed there is no one at the Constitutional Convention, no Federalist and no Anti-Federalist who subscribed to that view; rather, each rejected it and held that rejection as among their core beliefs. The view taught by Fairfield North Elementary School is one dear to slavish Tories of the 18th Century but loathsome to every true American Patriot from that era to the present.
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© 2014 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved
Jonathan W. Emord is an attorney who practices constitutional and administrative law before the federal courts and agencies. Ron Paul calls Jonathan “a hero of the health freedom revolution” and says “all freedom-loving Americans are in [his] debt . . . for his courtroom [victories] on behalf of health freedom.” He has defeated the FDA in federal court a remarkable eight times, seven on First Amendment grounds, and is the author of the Amazon bestsellers The Rise of Tyranny, Global Censorship of Health Information, and Restore the Republic. He is the American Justice columnist for U.S.A. Today Magazine and joins Robert Scott Bell weekly for “Jonathan Emord’s Sacred Fire of Liberty,” an hour long radio program on government threats to individual liberty. For more info visit Emord.com, join the Emord FDA/FTC Law Group on Linkedin, and follow Jonathan on twitter (@jonathanwemord).
bill of rights is but a small subset of the universe of rights, a non-exhaustive
list of rights that government is denied a power to alter or abridge.