In America, we have the right to a free country, but we may not always have the ability to maintain it. It depends on who lives here, what our attitudes are, and how good our leadership is. Benjamin Franklin famously answered a question upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “A Republic if you can keep it.” In more ways than one, seems like that’s more true than ever.
America is founded upon the principle of natural rights, that is no one has the right to dominate anybody else without their consent. In other words, nobody has the right to rule another without the consent of the governed. It is the essence of human equality. It is the essence of human dignity, the quality of being worthy of honor or respect.
To create the United States of America, our founding fathers had to make compromises in the ratified documents. Neither they nor the documents were perfect. After all, they were human and all humans are flawed. Nonetheless, the foundation was set for the freest country in humankind’s existence. Over our nearly 250-year history, we’ve attempted to address the flaws in those documents by fighting a civil war, engaging in nonviolent civil rights movements, and peacefully securing new protections in federal law for the civil rights of all Americans.
All this hard work affirms a moral claim that our natural rights arise from the notion that not only are we born equal, but we also deserve to live equally free. And that comes from the idea of the natural right to liberty from which all other rights can be derived.
- If you have the right to be free, then you have the right to not be assaulted.
- If you have the right to be free, then you have the right to not be killed by another.
- If you have the right to use your own mind and body to acquire property, then you have the right to property.
- If you have the right not to be dominated in the way you worship God, then you have the freedom to practice your religion.
Human equality is a moral claim in two ways:
- Moral rights and obligations of human beings to each other.
- Right to rule, born equally free and independent (not born into a slave or subordinate relationship – except for children who are under the temporary wardship of their parents as a preparation for the freedom of adult life.)
The only way to maintain these rights is to live under a social compact, an agreement we all have with each other to form a government and accept the rules of that government, which is for us and our rights.
Having rights is not the same as being able to keep them. For the sake of future generations of Americans, I pray we find a way to do so.