Rights and why they matter

I have found descriptions of this blog and myself on the Internet where I am labelled a defender of gay rights. That is only superficially true. I am no less a defender of gay rights than I am a defender of straight rights. It is the same fight.

That said, here is a piece I’ve written specifically for those likely to vote Yes on 1 on the upcoming ballot in Maine.

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I want you to really consider the concept of rights. They are far more important than any personal beliefs one may hold insofar as government is concerned. You violate one individual’s rights and you’ve violated the rights of all people.

James Madison espoused a separation of church and state in much the same manner as Thomas Jefferson. He is recorded as expressing these views in these Congressional minutes,

Mr. Madison said, he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.

And we can go one step further into Madison’s mind with more recordings from the same session,

Mr. Madison thought, if the word national was inserted before religion, it would satisfy the minds of honorable gentlemen. He believed that the people feared one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform. He thought if the word national was introduced, it would point the amendment directly to the object it was intended to prevent.

It’s hard to see how a reasonable person could misinterpret this. Madison obviously rejected the notion that religious beliefs should be codified into law, thus establishing them as the moral directives of other individuals. That is, religious beliefs should not be made law because that essentially makes government an enforcer of religion – and that is far from its role. Good government doesn’t dictate morality.

Moving beyond Madison, a discussion of the concept of rights needs to happen. What is a right? A succinct definition is hard to formulate, but I think a good idea can be created. Something which does not infringe upon another’s rights should be a right. This alone isn’t much of a definition because it assumes the existence of rights, the very thing we want to define. But within a certain context it does give a good approximation of what a right should be; we already have established rights (free speech, religious beliefs, protest, etc), so assuming we agree on many of those, we can ask ourselves, does X infringe upon these? If the answer is “no”, then there’s a good chance that X is a right.

But more is needed. I think it is eminently appropriate to include safety and security as one defining piece of rights. Does X cause bodily harm to me or others? Does it cause me undue financial hardships? Does it put me at risk of life or health? If the answer is “no”, we again have another good indicator that X is a right.

I hope it hasn’t escaped anyone that the previous two paragraphs are speaking of natural rights. These are rights which extend to all peoples, not merely Americans or Europeans or Russians or any one particular group. They are effectually based upon the idea that rights are to be based upon humanity and the human condition (which may extend to other animals, but I digress).

So why are rights so important? I think it should be obvious. If a society (or the world as a whole) goes about imposing restrictions upon minorities or the meek, then the statement that some people are not equal to others is being made. This seems like nothing less than a superiority complex manifested.

Yet restrictions go beyond this statement of superiority. They implicitly say any group can be superior to another. The reasoning behind the superiority isn’t important (whether from religious doctrine or philosophical notions). What matters is that (usually unknowingly) there are people who do not accept the idea that rights are universal. They can’t. They believe that the very concept of rights can be ignored if it runs counter to some other line of thought. Does Religion X say public prayer is immoral? If so and if Religion X’s followers are a majority, they can stampede the rights of those who wish to publicly pray. This can only be because the teachings of Religion X are being claimed to be superior to the rights of others. And this can only be true if rights are not universal and if we agree that morality trumps individual rights. I, for one, disagree.

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The Traveler and the Farmer

Traveler: God has been mighty good to your fields, Mr. Farmer.

Farmer: You should have seen how he treated them when I wasn’t around.

Why do atheists care about religion?

Making the pleas

I’ve been pleading with people who I suspect or know will vote “Yes” on 1, the Maine ballot measure that would codify one group’s idea of morality over another, thus damaging the very concept of rights (and, incidentally, keeping it illegal for same-sex partners to marry). Here is one message I made specifically for someone, but it can apply to anyone leading toward oppression.

Even though I’m unlikely to change your mind if you’ve already decided, I still want you to know that no one should impose their morality upon another. That is what “Yes on 1” means. It doesn’t simply mean you are against homosexual sex or relationships. It means you believe it is your place to tell people how they should behave. Look deep within yourself and ask if your rights are being infringed by same-sex marriage. Ask yourself if you will hurt financially or physically. Ask yourself if your religious beliefs can no longer be practiced. Ask yourself if this harms your liberty or life. Does it prevent your personal pursuit of happiness?

As November nears I find myself getting more and more passionate and more and more focused on this issue. I give almost no thought any more to whether or not love matters. I care little about whether or not homosexual sex is moral or immoral (or amoral). What concerns me – and far more deeply than anyone knows – is that this is fundamentally about rights. Infringe upon the rights of one group and you no longer have those rights for any groups; they become privileges. They place one group above another based upon majority rule, not based upon equality and fairness. Rights must be rights for all.

Thought of the day

I have an utter rage about me at the moment. The Oppressors want to deny citizens of my fair state their equal protections on the law. This is a denial of marriage as a right at all; should the Oppressors achieve their moral imposition, they shall have succeeded in making a marriage a privilege. They seek to undermine the very concept of rights. A clear violation of the 14th Amendment, such action would also have outraged the founding fathers.

“What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals.”

~Thomas Jefferson

Thought of the day

Religion is a major obstacle in the fight for science. It doesn’t always stand in its way (some people just don’t care, even bring it along for the spiritual ride), but it is often at odds. I don’t mean to imply that science and religion are compatible. Religion simply has the ability to occasionally get out of the way. But more often than not, it doesn’t do this. That is why it must be attacked and thrown around and beaten up. Do that and the door to science opens another crack.

He finally gets him