I remember sitting in a professional development seminar when it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. We were tasked with reading an article from the Heritage Foundation and the premise in the article seemed so tantalizing. The author started with the idea that our “inalienable rights” came from God. Heck, it says as much on the Declaration of Independence, so it obviously must be so. The purpose of the assertion is that if you accepted that premise then you also accept the premise that the constitution should not be altered or reinterpreted because it comes from holy writ. Of course, the other caveat is that your rights cannot be violated if they come from God. God is beyond reproach.
I can’t say I’ve read every word in the Bible, but I have read much of it. I don’t remember God saying anything about freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, or illegal searches and seizures. The truth and nothing but the truth is that our rights do not come from God. They come from us. I remember hearing a line that I will repeat numerous times: people have only those rights that they can defend. The miracle and majestic beauty of the American system is not that we have God give rights that are self-evident. The beauty is that we chose to guarantee some rights that no one else in the world have chosen to guarantee. The miracle is that we have seen these rights preserved in all but the rarest of circumstances.
This brings us to Ferguson. You have only those rights that you can defend. Take away the looters and those that are prone to violence and you have a group of people that instinctively see the fragile state of American freedom. It isn’t something that comes from God. It comes from ourselves. Of course, the paradox is plain to see. If we can grant those rights to ourselves then we can also take them away. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a democratic society. It started in 1215 with the Magna Carta and was built brick by brick and dead body by dead body. The solace comes in the fact that if democracy is built brick by brick then it also torn down brick by brick.
Freedom doesn’t die with a single event. It dies with many seemingly small events. Whether they were consciously cognizant of it or not, those protesters in Ferguson understood this. America and American exceptionalism wasn’t going to die with Michael Brown. It dies with dozens or hundreds of Michael Browns. Of course, many have pointed out the existence of dozens of Michael Browns. So, people stood up and demanded for it stop. They demanded answers. They demanded their rights. They understood that people have only those rights which they can defend. American history is a history of ever increasing inclusion. At each step of the way people have been willing to go out and demand those rights. After all, people don’t have things given to them without asking.
So, if you remember anything remember this. America is a great country not because they gave its citizens God given rights that are self-evident. After all, if they were so self-evident then everyone would have them. The greatness of America is that we saw the collective wisdom of rights for ourselves and from ourselves. We did that. We have had peaceful elections and transitions of power. If the worst you can point to after an election is a court battle then you can still say you are doing better than a majority of the world. No election has ever been won on the tip of a sword or the barrel of a gun. With any luck, we will continue to say that hundreds of years from now.
So, you have only those rights which you can defend. If rights come from people then people can take them away. They won’t do it all at one time. They will tear it down brick by brick. We’ll look one day and see much of it eroded away. That is unless we step up when we see injustice and demand the freedoms promised to us. Not from God, but for us, by us, and administered by us. So, allow me to disagree with the keen minds at the Heritage Foundation. God has given us many things, but political rights are not among them. I’ve always seen God as a card carrying Independent as far as politics is concerned.