We live in a wonderful country. Our Founding Fathers recognized that the people of this nation are sovereign and all rights are held by them. Some of these rights were granted to the federal government by the people; some were granted to the individual states. But the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution tell us two things: just because the Bill of Rights mentions certain rights, it does not mean that those are the only rights. Any right not specifically granted the United States or the individual states is held by the people.
But there is some confusion as to what exactly is a right held by a person. I have heard people say, “I have a right to this job!” or “I have a right to free health care!” But do they? Are these the same sort of rights as the legally recognized right of free speech? Not really. In the case of free speech, you have the right to express your opinion, but there are certain restrictions on it. You do not have the right to disseminate slanderous or libelous information against someone, and the offended person may take you to court if you do. You may not use your freedom of speech to remove or restrict the rights of others. To use a common example, yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater is dangerous to the life and safety of others.
There are basically two rules to rights: you may not exercise your rights to restrict the rights of others, and you may not force someone else to pay for your rights. The old saying of “your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose” gives an idea of what is meant by not restricting the rights of others. You may not do murder since it deprives a person of life, nor may you kidnap anyone since it deprives that person of liberty. As for the second rule about rights, you have no right to the time and money of other people. The government reserves this right in the form of taxes, but individuals may not walk up to someone and demand five dollars. That is theft. But you may be surprised at how many people expect and demand your money.
Whenever you hear someone demanding a right to free health care, you should ask him why he feels justified in robbing doctors. After all, if you were to walk into a hospital, receive the care you need and walk out without paying for it, you have essentially robbed the hospital, the doctors and the nurses of payment for their services. This is just the same as shoplifting. But people don’t want to pay for expensive health care, so they scream that it should be free for them. Yelling doesn’t make it so, no matter how shrill you are or how many join in with your screaming. But what if the people vote to make health care free for everyone? It is still stealing. If it is illegal for one person to demand and take money from another, it is just as illegal even if a million people vote to take money from another. And it is just as morally unjustified to vote for the government to tax people and use the money to pay for “free” health care, but you will have a hard time convincing some people of this. They want it, so they expect the government to exercise its might and give it to them.
If you are an artist, do you have the right to perform? Sure; that is part of your freedom of speech. But do you have the right to demand that people buy your CDs or tickets to your performances? Of course not. What if a recording company or music store refuses to produce or sell your albums? Have your rights been violated? Again, no. You have no right to demand that people pay for your expression. You have the right to put on a performance in your garage, but you cannot demand that people pony up the dough for it. As with any transaction, this should be a two-way street: the performer presents tickets for a show, and people choose to buy a ticket and attend. There is an implicit contract where the performer puts on a show as his part of the contract, and the people buy tickets to attend as their part. There is no justification for attempting to force payment; this is an example of the free market in action.
Do you have a right to shelter? No. You have the right to seek shelter. If you think you have the right to shelter, then you must also expect someone will provide it for you. Once again, you are demanding the time and money of another person without justification for doing so. You are, however, free to negotiate for shelter. Most people call this rent or house payments, but in the case of people who cannot or will not pay for shelter, there are charity services who are willing to put people up for the night or week. As with many public services, such accommodations are far from ritzy.
Do you have a right to a job? No. You have the right to look for a job. Whether or not you are hired depends on your skills and the skills of other applicants. Just try marching up to IBM or General Motors and demanding that they hire you because it is your right. Depending on how much of a scene you make, you might get escorted from the building by security, or they will relinquish you into the welcoming hands of the police. What makes you think you have a demand on people’s money like that?
Believe it or not, there are many people who speak in the language of rights who have absolutely no clue how rights truly work. If you are demanding that other people hand over time and money to furnish your rights, then they are not really rights at all.