Individual rights are sacrificed on the altar of politics

Beware the pending storm. The nomination of Alberto Gonzales for U.S. Attorney General is likely to produce a whole heap of controversy. Gonzales’ detractors will point to his somewhat shaky civil liberties record whereas his supporters will claim that he is a defender of constitutional rights.

In either case, the motives are purely political. Neither liberals nor conservatives respect the sanctity of rights. Instead, they merely prefer to use rights talk as a convenient cover for the cause of the hour.

In a way, the politicization of rights represents education in reverse. As schoolchildren, we are taught the Bill of Rights and we come to understand that it is something sacred. Somewhere between then and adulthood, that understanding is lost.

The First Amendment is a classic point of contention. Liberals will dutifully defend the rights of communists and shock artists to express their views, but seem to recoil when confronted with hate speech or the mere mention of religion.

The same provision that allows for individuals to call the president a racist, for example, allows a racist (such as David Duke) to run for president.

Furthermore, separation of church and state does not circumvent the fact that religious expression is constitutionally protected. As long as it’s entirely voluntary, there is absolutely no reason why children can’t pray in public schools if they so desire.

Conservatives fare no better with regard to free speech claims. They will rightly denounce political correctness as an unjust abridgement of free speech, only to turn around and become censors themselves when Howard Stern, Eminem or Michael Moore says something that isn’t to their liking.

The same right that allows Michael Savage to spew inflammatory lies over the airwaves allows Janeane Garafalo or Al Franken to strike back.

Additionally, the door of political correctness happens to swing both ways. If conservatives truly wish to abolish it, then they will have no recourse against me calling them Bible-thumping Jesus freaks and giving a big “fuck you” to anyone who doesn’t like it.

Sadly, the rest of the Bill of Rights fares no better. Chanting the mantra of “gun control,” liberals have begun to wage war against the Second Amendment.

Legitimate gun control means keeping guns out of the hands of children and convicted criminals (i.e. those without a guaranteed right to bear arms). What passes for gun control nowadays seems to mean keeping guns out of the hands of adults as well.

As a law-abiding citizen, I have the right to arm myself as I see fit. Denying me that right because I might use a weapon to commit a violent act is essentially punishing me for a crime I have not committed.

Besides, if I really was inclined to shoot someone to death, all of Sen. Lautenberg’s gun control legislation wouldn’t be able to stop me from going into Newark and getting a gun illegally.

Substitute “gun control” for “law enforcement” and the Second Amendment for the Fourth and conservatives seem to have the exact same problem. They seem overly enthusiastic about tap-dancing around the protections against searches and seizures in an effort to lock up more criminals, arguing that drug dealers/murderers/random bad guys don’t have a right to be secure against warrantless searches. They then have the nerve to refer to this as “law enforcement.”

First, until a person is convicted of a crime, he or she is not a criminal but a citizen, and a citizen does have that right. Secondly, law enforcement refers to upholding and enforcing the law, not breaking it.

Since the Fourth Amendment is the law, attempts by the authorities to flout it are inexcusable. Undoubtedly, policing is a tough job, but I refuse to believe that it can’t be done without violating the Constitution.

Perhaps even more jarring than the disregard liberals and conservatives show to actual rights is their tendency to advocate fictitious ones.

For liberals, rights seem to arise from a state of perpetual victimization. In their attempt to correct historic wrongs and promote a nonexistent equity, liberals have taken to advancing privileges and demanding they be called rights.

Gay marriage exemplifies this rationale perfectly. Same-sex couples across the country are routinely (and unjustly) screwed out of benefits shared by their heterosexual counterparts. As such, liberals have tried to address the issue by insisting gays have a right to marry.

As I mentioned in a previous column, marriage is not a right but a privilege. Any two consenting adults have the right to live as a married couple, but marriage requires government recognition of that union and the granting of benefits in accordance with it.

The government (via the will of the people) defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Ergo, attempts to declare gay marriage as a right are hopelessly facile.

Liberals also labor under the delusion that there is an explicit constitutional guarantee to privacy. While it can be argued that such a guarantee should exist (and I believe it should) or that the Founding Fathers intended for it to exist, the fact of the matter is that it does not. Any law that emanates from this invisible protection – including the Roe v. Wade decision – is thereby inherently flawed.

As a trained lawyer, Sen. Kerry should have known better than to claim during the presidential debates that abortion was a constitutionally protected right.

The fabrication of rights does not end there. Kerry has also claimed that health care is a right. I wonder if he’d mind telling me which part of the Constitution specifies this guarantee.

By the time a final tally is taken, a second Constitution might be needed just to keep track of all the rights liberals have invented for themselves.

Needless to say, conservatives are no less likely to make up rights as they go along. Their strategy is an uneasy blend of tradition, populism and religious scruples.

They far too often mistake personal (or even popular) preference as some kind of legal guarantee and seem outraged that these preferences aren’t treated as legitimate law.

This is wholly evident in their continued advocacy for nonsensical “rights of the unborn.” Just as liberals will try to change the definition of “marriage” to meet their ends, conservatives will try to change the definition of “person” to meet theirs.

A two-celled zygote with no consciousness is not a person any more than a mere seed is a 250-foot sequoia.

Ergo, the zygote is not eligible to receive the same rights as a person (rights that become available to that person upon birth).

Any attempts to ban abortion at a federal level are especially malodorous considering that the issue is beyond the constitutional purview.

Conservatives have also attempted to lay claim to so-called “family rights” and “community rights” to purge society of that which they deem offensive.

This back-door prelude to fascism has been used by groups like the Moral Majority, Empower America and the Parents Music Resource Center to attack the entertainment industry, pornography and recreational drug use.

Not only are such “rights” extra-constitutional, but they also ignore the fact that both families and communities are comprised of individuals.

As an individual, it is up to me to determine what I find offensive. If I wish to indulge in porn (which I don’t) and watch violent, profane movies (which I do), such is my right. If another person finds that objectionable, that person needn’t have any part of it. However, that person has no right – constitutional or otherwise – to block or impede the manufacture of such material or prevent me from receiving it.

The philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will is to prevent harm to others. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

This view became the precursor for the concept of negative rights, a concept that was embraced by our Founding Fathers. In other words, whatever the government doesn’t tell you that you can’t do, you can do and whatever the Constitution doesn’t tell the government it can do, it can’t do.

As simple as it sounds, liberals and conservatives have bungled, manipulated and utterly savaged this principle beyond repair. They attempt to turn bona fide “cans” into “can’ts” and create new “cans” from thin air.

Throughout all the confusion and obfuscation and legal maneuvering, one thing has become clear: I have the right to be outraged about this and so do you.