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CIVICS LESSON #6 CITIZENS MUST PROTECT THEIR FREEDOM AND RIGHTS

Image courtesy of tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is the sixth edition of FJ Rocca‘s series, Civics Lessons.

The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a stirring reminder that we must always be alert to threats against our freedom. Those threats rarely come from outside the nation. They almost always come from our own government. Therefore, to protect ones liberty, one needs to protect it from government. That is why the US Constitution was drafted as it was, to protect the liberty and rights of The People, not as a collective mass, but as individual American citizens, each and every one of whom has his or her rights guaranteed independently by our founding documents. Please note that there are no other groups specified as having rights in the Constitution or Bill or Rights.

Liberty is not fragile, because, once people experience true freedom they refuse to give it up. But freedom can be stolen from us if we don’t pay attention to what government is doing, what laws it is passing, how competently or incompetently it is handling such vital factors as the economy and defense. Thus, the first duty of every citizen is to guard against this theft by exercising “eternal vigilance” about what politicians do and say.

Think of freedom as a piece of woven cloth. The cloth is very strong, but the threads from which it is woven are each fragile. Therefore, the enemies of freedom never try to tear the cloth, only to cut the threads gradually, stealing individual freedom and rights by cutting the threads one-by-one until the cloth falls in tatters. The cloth is our nation; the threads are the laws that keep our freedom and rights secure.

Defending freedom against its enemies can be a tricky proposition, because it is often difficult to identify those enemies. They often disguise themselves as protectors of freedom, while modifying the laws that guarantee it until those laws are repealed or made ineffective. But it is unwise to put the fox in charge of protecting the hen house. Politicians often are the enemies within and they are far more dangerous than those who would attack us from the outside, because they will lie cleverly to hide their real intentions. This lying is the first danger against which we must be eternally vigilant, and the greatest liars are almost always the politicians and those who work with them.

These enemies of liberty usually begin by describing grievances that they insist must be addressed. These grievances are always claimed in the interest not of individuals, but of collective groups. Most often these grievances are invented as excuses to pass laws that give government more power and a bigger budget. Political power is always power over people. Politicians are not entitled to power over us. They are elected ONLY to protect our unalienable rights, not to steal them.

To protect ourselves, we must continually remember that our freedom and rights as individuals are not granted by government and must never come into question, no matter what grievance politicians claim they must address. We must always remember that when politicians seek to limit individual rights in favor of some group, they are not really interested in righting wrongs, but merely in gaining more power for themselves.

It is a fundamental principle of free society that each individual citizen’s rights are unalienable. This means that the assertion of collective rights that infringe on the rights of individual liberty, those rights are not legitimate and laws purporting to protect them are equally illegitimate. It is easy to misinterpret this concept, but an example may clarify it. When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he did so to free the slaves, not as a collective mass that needed protection, but as individual citizens, each with his own unalienable rights. That is the true meaning of freedom.

Corrupting society’s understanding of rights always comes gradually, so that people do not immediately realize the full negative impact on freedom. Norman Thomas, six times the Presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, once stated, “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism,’ they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”

This is why politicians always introduce their proposed changes stealthily in language that is unclear and ambiguous. Some changes are introduced as benefits at first, and only after they take effect are found to be dangerous liabilities. The obligation of every citizen is to guard and protect our unalienable individual rights by refusing to accept “collective rights.” Any changes that lead us away from our free republic into a liberal socialist oligarchy or dictatorship should be shouted down loudly and those who try to destroy the fabric of our freedom should be driven from office by the most powerful tool of every eligible citizen, the vote at the ballot box.

Every American citizen over eighteen is qualified to vote to elect politicians into office. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when someone is incarcerated for committing crimes. Politicians are elected to office to represent the best interests of citizens in legislatures that make laws either supporting or abrogating the freedom and rights of every individual citizen. But we do not vote for laws. We vote for people to make the laws. Therefore, it is the duty of every qualified citizen to vote wisely and to remember that a bad politician will make bad policies, the worst of which can take away their freedom and rights. We must remember that political power is power OVER people. Citizens must elect politicians who will protect their rights and freedom and not elect those who would take them away.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

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CIVICS LESSON #5: SOME IMPORTANT NOTES ON VOTING

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is the fifth of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series.

In the US, we have a constitutional republic in which government consists of elected public officials who do not control us, but who represent us in a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Representatives to Congress are elected every two years, Senators every six years, and Presidents every four years. The cycle of local elections for mayors and of state elections for Governor vary by state and municipality.

The electoral system is called representative democracy, because citizens vote into office officials who are sworn by oath to represent them. We elect our Congressional representatives in organized voting districts within states, our governors by State and the President by what is called the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was put in place to guarantee that votes in sparser populations, such as rural areas and in less populous states, are treated with equal weight to those in larger populated areas, such as cities and more heavily populated states. Without the Electoral College, heavily populated states, such as California, New York and Ohio would always determine who becomes President and votes from smaller states, such as Alabama, Rhode Island and the Dakotas, would have little power.

The Electoral College system has been criticized, usually by the larger states, who argue that their heavier votes are being neutralized in favor of much lighter votes from less populous states, but the Founders, in their wisdom, questioned the fairness of states with large urban centers deciding the ultimate fate of representation of these smaller areas. Until a fairer, more practical system is instituted, it is probably a fair assumption that the Electoral College will remain an operating feature of Presidential elections for the foreseeable future.

State legislatures may “redistrict” areas within a state in order to give sparser populated areas the equal voting power of larger urban areas. This redistricting can and often is used to change the party representation so that members of the party in office in that state will get more votes than the opposing party. This is known as gerrymandering, one definition of which is “To manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.” While this practice is not illegal, it is only marginally ethical at best and is often frowned upon because it allows those in power to manipulate votes to keep that power, even when people want them out of power.

Democratic voting is a process and not a governing principle, because the US is a constitutional republic and not a pure democracy. In John Adams’s eternally true words, the US has “a government of laws and not of men.” We do not elect representatives to make decisions independent of our wishes, but on their sworn oath to preserve and protect the rights of each and every individual citizen against encroachment by government. Many politicians lust after power. We must be on guard against them.

It is a battle to keep voting fair. If not properly monitored, voting can be falsified by what is called “voter fraud,” although voters usually have nothing to do with it. Voter fraud can take various forms. Agents of a particular candidate may inflate the vote in favor of that candidate by putting fake votes to the ballot box, or “stuffing” it. Votes for an opposing candidate may be destroyed or hidden so that they are not counted. Voting machines may be rigged so that the vote count is falsified. A particularly creative kind of voter fraud is to register dead people onto voter rolls and actually vote in their places. All these are illegal punishable as crimes.

But there are also ways for the vote to be skewed legally, if unethically, for example by a candidate telling malicious lies about his opponent either in print or on television. This is called “smearing” and is unethical, even if it is marginally legal. Or, a candidate can lie about his or her position on issues or on his past performance. Overcoming these requires careful scrutiny by voters.

The important thing for citizens to remember is that casting a vote for a candidate who can be trusted is the strongest protection against bad government. But voters must beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, in the form of candidates who promise to protect and preserve our freedom and individual rights, while actually working to undermine them. To be on guard against this eventuality it is necessary to be skeptical of any and all politicians who make promises other than to protect and preserve the principles outlined in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When someone promises to fundamentally change America, that person must not be trusted, because no change that takes away the fundamental freedom and rights granted to Americans by those founding documents can be a good change.

That being said, it is also easy to preach that voters are free because they have the vote. In order to exercise their vote to their benefit, citizens must be given candidates who truly represent the model set out by our founding fathers; people who are honest, trustworthy and patriotic. Any candidate who is not worthy should be rejected out of hand.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

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CIVICS LESSON #4: THE MEANING OF FREEDOM AND RIGHTS

Image courtesy of emptyglass / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of emptyglass / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The fourth installment of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series. 

In a free society, the rights of each and every individual citizen are unalienable. They cannot be legitimately taken away by government, because they are not conferred by government in the first place. Rights exist by virtue of our nature as human beings. This fact is codified in the Declaration of Independence, which says that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. These rights are supported by the Constitution and its amendments and our freedom is supposed to be inviolable.

But what exactly is freedom? This is often not fully understood and its comprehension is vital to citizenship.

  • One very clear definition of freedom is “The power of self-determination attributed to the will.” This means that freedom is the lack of encumbrance. In a free society, the greatest encumbrance to freedom is the government.
  • Another definition is “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” and “The state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily.”

From these definitions, we may infer many subcategories of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and others. But these subcategories are for the purpose of analysis only. There are no separate categories of freedom in reality. In fact, we, as American citizens, are free to go anywhere we want, say anything we want, and do anything we choose, providing we do not violate any other citizen’s rights in the process. For example, we cannot commit crimes against anyone or shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, causing people to run riot (unless there really is a fire). All of these subcategories of freedom are enumerated, but they are not separate from freedom itself, which is vastly greater and, because they are protected by our founding documents, they cannot legitimately be restricted.

Notice the word legitimately. This means that those rights can be stolen from us only by illegitimate means, such as passing laws under false pretenses. To do this, the concept of freedom must be deliberately skewed so that we citizens do not realize what is happening to our rights. By subdividing our freedom into many freedoms, the concept can be altered in order to make us think that we only have some “freedoms” and that these are determined by government. This is NOT legitimate.

One corruption of the concept is that we must restrict our speech so as not to offend someone. Thus OUR speech is restricted by their feelings. This is the basis of political correctness, and it is actually forbidden by the First Amendment. In fact, political correctness is currently used on college campuses and elsewhere to restrict freedom of speech. When freedom of speech is restricted, our freedom in general is threatened.

The argument for political correctness is presented as anti-prejudice. But freedom from prejudice does not exist as anyone’s right, because people have the unalienable right to think or feel however they wish, even if it prejudicial. And, so long as no one acts on his or her prejudice by violating another person’s rights, there can be no violation of anyone’s freedom. Likewise, no one has a right to be free from being offended for the same reasons that everyone has the right to think what they want. Government cannot regulate thought or the expression, unless someone commits libel or slander, and his words cause actual injury to another person’s reputation.

The term “freedom” is so powerful that it is often deliberately used to promote an illegitimate cause. For example, politicians cite “freedom from want” as an excuse to seize vast amounts of wealth from some citizens in order to give that wealth to others. But in reality, there cannot be a legitimate “freedom from want” because wealth is not guaranteed. In a free society the only freedom is to pursue one’s legitimate right to work, to be original or inventive and to exert effort to gain wealth and to provide for one’s own wants. Government does nothing to create wealth. Consequently, it can only redistribute wealth it has seized. This is a violation of the rights of those who produce in favor of those who do not.

The truth is that politicians always only do whatever they can to get and keep power. Vast welfare is nothing more than an attempt to buy the votes of people to whom something is given by government. The recipients of this false generosity are fooled into believing that it is a benefit, but in fact their dependency is a corruption of their rights, because it weakens their ability to pursue their own interests. Moreover, at some point, the false generosity of government will stop when it runs out of wealth to seize and give away. Only then will welfare recipients realize just how corrupt a government is when it makes promises it cannot eventually keep.

Freedom is a precious thing and must be protected, guarded and never given up. In order to keep it, citizens must be always aware of what it is and must never be willing to give it away. One of the most dangerous and pernicious ways freedom is stolen is to convince citizens that there is an imminent danger being posed by some outside force, and trying to convince citizens that they must give up just a little bit of their freedom in exchange for safety and protection by government. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” Benjamin Franklin was known for his wisdom and his words should be heeded by every American.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

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Civics Lesson #3: THE PURPOSE OF A CONSTITUTION

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The third installment of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series.

The United States was established as a constitutional republic. The Founding Fathers provided us with three vital documents, the Declaration of Independence, a Constitution, and its amendments, called The Bill of Rights. Taken together, these documents establish the philosophic bases of our government and set up a foundation from which all laws in our nation proceed. While the Declaration of Independence states the philosophic basis of why and what we are as a nation, the Constitution and Bill of Rights spell out how we are to run that nation. Together these documents outline clearly what the government is allowed and not allowed to do, what rights citizens have and where those rights came from.

The Declaration of Independence, for example, states unequivocally what are called “self-evident truths” which cannot be argued with precisely because they are self-evident. These truths are “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” The Declaration goes on to say, “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” This means clearly that the purpose of government is exclusively to secure the rights of citizens and that it derives the power to do so from the people it is established to protect. Put bluntly, the government is not supposed to be those people over there in Washington D.C. or in the state capitols or city halls. It is supposed to be each and every one of us citizens. Furthermore, the Declaration states that our rights come to us from our creator and are unalienable by anyone, including the government.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights spell out simply but precisely the limits of government. It does not limit the rights or freedom of people. That is because the Constitution and Bill of Rights are in place to protect the people from the government. Many people make the mistake of thinking that the Constitution is put in place to protect people from other people, but that is an error in thinking and it is an error that some politicians encourage, because they do not want the people to realize that they, and not the government, have unalienable rights. The truth is that government has no rights whatsoever. It is there to protect the rights of citizens. However, government does have strength, because it must have strength in order to enforce citizens’ rights. Because of this, George Washington, perhaps the most eminent American of his day, warned us that “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

The simplicity with which the clauses of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are written is deceptive. They mean exactly what they say, no more and no less. When in the First Amendment it states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There is no “interpretation” necessary, except to repeat what the Amendment states completely. The Government can’t set up a religion; it can’t force any citizen to worship or not worship one way or another; it can’t keep any citizen from saying what he wants, either in print or in oral speech, and it can’t restrict people from gathering together for any purpose. It also cannot prohibit people from criticizing the government or of demanding that their grievances be addressed and corrected.

By the very simplicity of the Constitution and most of the early Amendments, all rights are enumerated, or plainly stated. In order to change the basis of our society and to limit our freedoms, some amendments have been made to the US Constitution that are questionable in their wisdom. Other amendments have been deliberately misinterpreted to create the illusion that there are unenumerated rights within the original simple texts. But many wise jurists have asserted and insisted that there are NO UNENUMERATED RIGHTS in the Constitution or its Amendments. Thus, many laws are challenged as unconstitutional and cases to determine this are heard by the US Supreme Court, whose job is to decide whether laws are constitutional. Sometimes they appear to do this wisely. At other times, however, judges who want to make laws rather than interpret existing laws, deliberately stretch their interpretation of the original texts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. This is called judicial activism, and it can be a threat to citizens’ rights.

All rights are individual. There can be no group rights. There is no such thing as a collective in nature. Even ants are individuals, as are blades of grass or drops of moisture. They may come together and appear as a mass, but in truth, each and every thing on the Earth is independent from every other thing. This is especially true of human beings. Each of us occupies a separate space, a separate set of genes, and a separate independent mind. Each person possesses his or her own freedom and set of rights and government is not allowed to deny that fact. It is the most important principle on which our nation was founded. Never before or since, in human history was a nation founded on the recognition of individual rights to be protected by, but never abrogated by, government.

But beware. Politicians always seek power over people. Our constitution forbids that explicitly. We as citizens would do well to remember that our eternal vigilance against their acquisition of power over each of us as individuals is the price we must pay for our liberty.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

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Civics Lessons #2: SECULAR GOVERNMENT

Image courtesy of Damian Brandon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Damian Brandon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second installment of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series.

The word secular is easily misunderstood or misinterpreted and sometimes deliberately misused. The term secular does NOT mean Godless, as many people in our society will say. The term comes from the Latin saecularis meaning “of the world” and “not of a religion.” The term does NOT mean against religion or atheistic. A thing that is secular is separate from religion or is not associated specifically with any religion.

Many activities are secular. For example, walking down the street or driving a car, brushing one’s teeth or eating breakfast are secular activities. Likewise, in our American society, government is supposed to be secular, not because religion is banned, or proscribed, but because it is not prescribed by our Constitution or the laws derived from it. There is a good reason for this. The Founding Fathers of our republic wanted to guarantee that each and every individual citizen of our country could practice his or her religion freely as chosen. The guarantee extends to those who choose not to practice a religion, as well.

In fact, the Declaration of Independence uses the term “creator,” but wisely does not specify who or what that creator is. Even atheists cannot argue logically that the term refers to God, because human beings exist, therefore were created by someone or something. Arguably, even nature itself could be interpreted as a creator by this definition. The non-specific term creator was used to guarantee that no one religion could claim the authority of Government, and the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which is a part of our Constitution, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” It is important to understand that the term “respecting” means “with respect to” and not owing respect to any specific religion.

The First Amendment does NOT say that religion should be kept out of all government actions or activities, only that Government cannot establish a religion of its own and cannot require people to practice a specific religion. Atheists who protest religious symbols on public lands or in government offices deliberately misinterpret the First Amendment in. I believe they do this in order to establish their own religion of anti-God. But the First Amendment prohibits this, just as it prohibits other religions from dominating government.

The Founding Fathers were very wise in the way they treated this very important and delicate matter. Governments that are dominated by a specific religion are skewed in favor of those who belong to that religion and, worse, often repress or persecute those who do not. Witness the persecution of Christians in so-called Islamic Republics. This is a good lesson in what happens when government is not kept safely separate from specific religious affiliation. For example, the imposition of Sharia Law on our system of government and in our courts would directly violate the First Amendment and abrogate the rights of American citizens living in our country. No collective group has rights over any single individual citizen in our nation. When a single individual’s rights are threatened, everyone’s rights are likewise threatened.

A secular form of government, properly established to ensure and guarantee individual rights and freedoms, will protect and enforce the right of every individual citizen to practice or not practice a religion as a matter of personal choice. Therefore, people of any and every religion, provided that religion does not violate the rights of others, may practice that religion without interference. There are some practices associated with some religions that are prohibited by our civil laws. For example, polygamy, marrying of people under legal age and physical beatings or so-called “honor killings” are absolutely forbidden by law, because they are direct and egregious violations of individual civil rights specifically and of human rights generally.

Understanding this definition of secular vs. sacred is important if we, as citizens, are to perpetuate the extraordinary society given to us by our Founders. It has been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Freedom is as fragile as it is priceless. It is far too easy to let liberty slip away through complacency. Each of us must be eternally vigilant to prevent anyone from taking it away.

In our society, it is easy to mistake the false promises of politicians for benefits. When someone promises to fundamentally transform our nation, we should be very wary, because those who promise that change are really promising to transform our rights and freedoms, as well. Such people should never be put in charge of our nation or our freedom. Our government should be secular, but our freedom must remain sacred.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

 

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