Essential Rights

     Those who drafted the U.S. Constitution, assumed a just government would set up just laws which guaranteed people certain rights. The states, wanted it put in writing and came up with the Bill of Rights. That's putting it rather simplistically, but now when somebody violates our rights (perceived or actual), we get as upset as those who started the revolution to form the United States.
     Yet, are all our rights protected under the law? What rights can the law take away?
     According to Thomas Jefferson, we have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We also have the right to equal justice and equal privileges without regard to birth or badge. We have the right to use our faculties. Much of the groundwork for the U.S. Constitution was laid by papers on these rights, which were written by Jefferson. The constitution also affords us the right of equal representation, and the right to vote.
     The Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution) also give us the right to Separation of Church and State; Freedom of speech; Bear arms; Not have the military take up residence in your house without your consent; Not have unreasonable searches and seizures; Not be held liable to a felony charge without an indictment from a grand jury; Not be in danger of double jeopardy; Not have to be a witness against yourself; Fair compensation and due process of law when the government takes your property; Speedy and fair trial; Jury trial; Be confronted by witnesses; Be allowed to obtain witness for yourself; A lawyer; Inexcessive bails and fines; and to Not have cruel and unusual punishment. At least that's the way I read it, but I’m not a lawyer.
     The other amendments give us the rights to Not be a slave; To vote regardless of race or color or gender or having paid taxes; be Taxed by the federal government; and to Drink.

     Other rights have been given to us by “lesser” laws. Perhaps some of these should also be made into amendments. I believe prevention and precaution should be the underlying principles to any rights provided by new amendments. Areas in which I would like to see amendments to the constitution proposed follow. The most important areas, in my opinion are: Environment, Human Rights, Peace, and Openness.
The Precautionary Principle. For too many years, we have been going back and forth as a country on environmental rights. The Precautionary Principle, I feel, is a good approach to establishing these rights. Places that have adopted the Precautionary Principle are San Francisco, Los Angeles Schools, Australia, United Nations - Laws of the Sea, Canada, European Union, Sweden. The Precautionary Principle has also been adopted by the Coalition of Safe Schools. For more information see Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly #586. Ontario has a very comprehensive Environmental Bill or Rights.
The rights of corporations do not exceed the rights of individuals (employed by same or others) See Reclaim Democracy. Every person has the right to fair pay. Currently, minimum wage standards are too low to support a family, and there are several loopholes, whereby employers do not have to pay minimum wage. The minimum wage needs to be set to correspond to the minimum level needed to support a family. The loopholes need to be closed. Corporate rights also do not outway environmental rights. A good approach to this is Ecolonomics.
The right to disagree without being labeled unpatriotic This would include the rights to disagree, defect, not participate, and to secede. Some have termed this Self-Determination. I’m not advocation separation of races, as some have termed self-determination. I’m all for integration. I just want to be able to disagree. I also want geographical regions to be able to determine which state they are part of or if they are a separate state, and possibly if they belong to a different country. We have procedures for bringing states into the union, why not have procedures for allowing states to leave the union?
Equal Rights for All The Equal Rights amendment was never passed, which would have further guaranteed women equal rights. Also needed are equal rights for people regardless of sexual orientation or other differences. Germany has equal rights for all regardless of age (including children). I’m not sure how far I’d take that, but it worth considering – see Why Children Should Have a Vote. For more information on Equal Rights for All, see the Internation Bill of Rights, especially article 9. More information on the current status of the International Bill of Human Rights can be found at Identity
Universal Healthcare Update: Now we have almost Universal Healthcare under the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Every member of Congress and the President enjoy good health care benefits under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Why can’t the rest of us enjoy these same benefits?> The Heritage Foundation has much more to say about Universal Healthcare Coverage. But Universal Coverage is only part of the problem. We also need Universal Care, and the Right to Medical Practice of choice – Western Medicine, Eastern Medicine, and other methods. A single payer system would also be helpful.
Universal Education Every person should have the right to Education. Free education for the basics in K thru 12 already exists for the most part. Should this be extended to pre-school, to college, to graduate classes?
Global Responsibility / Global Equality. The U.S. is only one member of the global society. In a global society, all members have equal rights. In a global society, the more powerful a nation is, the more responsibility to the rest of society that nation has. We need to spend more time and money helping other nations to be our equals.
Affordable Insurance worth having We’ve all heard the story, “I had a good driving record for several years, and one claim and they raise my rates.” Why have auto insurance if you can never make a claim for fear of raising your rates, which are already too high. Similar stories have been heard in other insurance areas. Insurance should be affordable and should pay claims without raising rates by huge percentages. Insurance should pay for preventive care, or at least give discounts for those seeking preventive care. Rather than caps on insurance claims, there should be caps on insurance premiums and rate hikes. Auto-Choice is one proposed alternative to current auto insurance. Preventive medical coverage should cover more than routine checkups. How about coverage for vitamins and health foods?
Spend equally on war and peace – humanitarian aid for nation building The United States should spend at least as much time and money on peace as it does on war and on preparing for war. For many 18 to 20 year olds, entering the armed forces sometimes seems like the only viable career path. We should offer these people the same opportunity to enter the “unarmed forces”. Peaceful solutions to conflicts cost much less, especially in terms of human lives; than do non-peaceful solutions. Therefore, more time and money should be invested in researching and applying peaceful solutions before situations get to the point where non-peaceful solutions become the only alternative. Also if we accept our global responsibility and helping other nations to become our equals, humanitarian aid will cost less, because less humanitarian aid will be needed. We can do it!
Balanced Budget Government income needs to equal government outgo. Also areas of the budget need to be better balanced against others areas of the budget.
Open Government – Full Disclosure The government does many things in secrecy. Documents are sealed for a variety of reasons, including national security. If the government is the government of the people, then the people need to know what the government is up to. We accuse other governments of not being open and honest. What kind of example are we setting? Secrecy only leads to scandals. When the government lies, it encourages individuals to lie.
Arms Registration and Reduction I am not against the right to bear arms, although the only right I see in the bill of rights, is the right for states to arm militia to defend themselves against the forces of the national government – if need be. If we have to register our cars, why don’t we have to register our weapons? Also, if we have to pass a test and get a license in order to operate a car, why not have the same standards for operating a weapon?
Furthermore, nobody needs to own a machine gun. Arms should only be used in defense or hunting animals; not for assault. A machine gun is not a defensive weapon. We need to reduce the number and type of guns on the street. Registration and Assault Weapons bans are only part of what it will take to accomplish this. Many local police forces have good weapons reduction programs.
The Brady Center has more information on gun control.