Aside from bending the Constitution, the two recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have something else in common: They both represent what can happen when people, particularly jurists, forget where our rights come from.
The first ruling was that the government of New London, Conn., could use eminent domain to take property from homeowners for use by a private company. The rationale was that the new development would generate economic growth for the community and increase tax revenues.
In the takings clause, the Constitution clearly states that property can be taken, with just compensation, for “public use.” Originally, that meant roads and water systems used by the public. The founders did not intend for government to take land from one person and give it to another who pays more taxes. The Court has misconstrued the clause to consider the taxes generated from the new would-be property owner to be a part of that public use.
The other issue the Court dealt with was whether the Ten Commandments could be displayed in public places, such as state capitol buildings and courthouses. In contrasting rulings, the Court ruled that the tablets could be displayed in the capitol building but not in the courthouses, seemingly based on their degree of religious promotion.
In this situation, the Constitution is also clear when it says, in the establishment clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It didn’t forbid government from acknowledging the religious foundations of our laws; it forbade government from establishing a state religion, as was the case in England.
Besides these Constitutional problems, both rulings are linked by their reflection of where we are today in our understanding of rights and where they come from.
The founders were clear that our rights come from an all-powerful God and not from an all-powerful government.
Thomas Jefferson said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”
The foundation of our government was that the individual rights of citizens are based on the existence of a God who grants those rights.
Government is not the source of absolute rights. The only source of absolute rights has to come from something above and beyond humans and their governments (God). Without that outside authority, rights are subject to the will of humans. With the eminent-domain ruling, we now see how these rights are becoming subject to a court’s will.
Property, one of the most fundamental rights, has come under attack largely based on the belief that government grants rights. Because certain people believe government grants the right of property to its citizens, they believe that right can also be taken away by government. Essentially, that means that there is no real absolute right to property.
That conclusion is a far cry from what the founders intended. When the Declaration of Independence, which states that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” was written, the idea of the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was virtually synonymous with “life, liberty and property.” This was referenced in the Fifth Amendment, right before the takings clause.
Because a person’s greatest property is himself, naturally the work he does and the reward he gets for it are also his property. He alone has the right to that property. Government cannot take that property right away from him and give it to someone else who will generate more economic growth and tax revenue. Doing so is akin to the type of redistribution that occurs under communism. The Soviet Union, which just so happened to deny the existence of God, is an appropriate example.
Maybe someone should tell that to the Supreme Court. Its rulings have moved our nation further from the free republic envisioned by our founders and closer to a socialist state envisioned by Karl Marx.
Adam Fowler is a USF email@example.com