Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's My "Right"

Everywhere we turn these days we hear people talking about their "rights." In Canada right now we're watching the drama unfold in Quebec, as students are protesting against the government's plans to raise post-secondary tuition to levels still below those of the rest of Canada. Some students are wanting to push it even further, not only do they not want the increases, they say that have a "right" to free education.

We've only recently come through some highly publicized cases before Human Rights Tribunals where Ezra Levant and others were forced to defend themselves because what they published was offensive to some. Some members of the Islamic community were offended because he published the cartoon which sparked Muslim riots in parts of Europe. The argument was that they had a "right" not to be offended.

Here's the question, what constitutes a "right?" Because I want something, does that mean that I'm entitled to it - as one infamous politician stated, "I'm entitled to my entitlements." We seem to have raised a generation of people who have largely forgotten what rights are and from whence they come.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution famously stated that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." It went on to say that "among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This was a good place to start.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982 lists Fundamental rights as: "freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association." The Canadian Charter begins with a statement that recognizes the supremacy of God, indicating again that these rights flow from our Creator.

That certainly is not the popular perception in a time when people regularly declare that they have a "right" to do basically anything that they want. Let's take a quick look at this subject to see if we can bring some common sense to bear.

Rights imply responsibilities.
This is a point which appears to be lost on most people. Every time we grant someone a right, we create for someone else a responsibility. For example, for the young lady in Quebec who, on the news last night declared that she should have a right to a free post-secondary education, the question is: who, then, has the responsibility to pay for it? The answer is generally the collective "them." "They" will pay for it because "they" can afford it. The problem is that "they" is "us," and we're running out of money.

Whenever government grants a right, like universal health care for example, (which I think is a good thing) they take on the responsibility to provide that. They then reach into our pockets for the money to pay for it. We believe that every child has a right to a basic education, accordingly we are taxed to provide for public schools which everyone can access. (The quality of education available is a subject for another day.)

The ever-increasing provision of "rights" has contributed to an escalating debt-load throughout Western Civilization, to the point where many nations are at risk of economic collapse. Yet, whenever those governments attempt to bring spending under control by making cuts they are met with rioting in the streets. 

Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.
In other words, you can exercise your rights until they infringe upon mine. This is where things get dicey. We have granted the right to freedom of expression, yet have rightly limited that right if it is abused to incite violence, for example. But what about those cases where we simply don't like what someone else is saying, as in the case with Ezra Levant and the Mohammed cartoons? Does Levant have the right to publish something which he knows will offend someone else?

One of the problems that arises when we lose our grip on the origin of rights is it simply becomes a matter of opinion. In Canada we've set up "Human Rights Tribunals," to mediate between parties, as in the Levant case. The problem with them is that, without a firm foundation from which to work, they have simply become a vehicle for social change for radical groups - all paid for by our tax dollars of course.

One issue which has received publicity over the years is the right to freedom of conscience - that a person cannot be compelled to do something that violates their conscience. This arose when pro-life medical professionals were called upon to help with abortions, which they believed to be the killing of an innocent human being. Yet some women believe that they have the "right to choose" what they do with their own body. When the "right to choose" comes up against the "right to freedom of conscience," which one wins. (Never mind the "right to life" of the child.) So far compromise has won the day, but we haven't seen the end of it.

Count Your Blessings
As the recently deceased Charles Colson wrote, "As Christians enjoying freedoms known few other places in the world, we have a special call to speak a sobering word: Rights divorced from responsibilities are the seeds of destruction."

One of the most famous quotes by John F. Kennedy was along these lines: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." As recipients of a society which recognizes basic human rights defended by the blood of our grandfathers, I think it's time to stop whining and start working. A question we should all be asking ourselves is this: how am I contributing to make this world a better place?

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Oh Canada!
An Open Letter To Stephen Harper
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