Where Do Our Rights Begin and End?

In the United States, there is no shortage of controversy.  With those always comes the discussion of our rights as American citizens ranging from our freedom of speech to freedom of religion, right to a fair trial, our right to privacy (via the 9th Amendment), and even our right to own a gun.  Since we all have these same rights, where do those rights for you begin and end as compared to someone else?

Take our Second Amendment right to bear arms (or own a gun).  There are different interpretations of this particular amendment, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it applies to all citizens having this right.  And any time there is a mass shooting, we all dive in to the same talking points.  We may have the right to own a gun, but that right ends when it affects the safety of others.  For an example, you have a right to own a gun but not to go around shooting people with it.

With the NSA in the news these days, we talk about our right to privacy which is guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment according to previous Supreme Court rulings.  This also gets discussed when talking about red light cameras or cameras in public places like they do all over London.  We always make the claim that they violate our right to privacy.  Though we have this right, it does not extend beyond our personal space (i.e our homes, our cars, etc.).  When someone is out in a public space, they are surrendering their right to privacy.  It’s not just cameras attached to police departments, but anyone these days can be filming or taking pictures with their phones and posting it online for all to see.  There is no privacy violation as you are in a public space where anyone in that space can see you.

Now this does not mean the government can read your mail, tap your phones, etc.  We have a right to expect such things to be private.  Our mail comes in envelopes… email is placed in our email box.  Phone calls and text messages go to our private phones.  Again, though, we surrender our right to privacy on our side of any phone conversation if we are in public as anyone can hear us.


What about our First Amendment right to religion, speech, the press, and to assemble?  For this, I’m going to use the Duck Dynasty controversy which most of us are tired of hearing about.  The person in question does have the right to speak his mind regardless if its his religious beliefs or just personal ones.  Being a TV personality though, he has a much larger stature as compared to just someone sitting in a room full of people.  As with any TV or film actor/celebrity/personality, companies generally want to make sure they reach a broad audience so they have more viewers.  So they don’t want to alienate any particular group with such brash comments.  In any case, he does have the right to speak his mind and what he believes without retribution from the government or law enforcement, but it does not protect him from being terminated.  TV personalities and celebrities have to be very careful because they are more public than most of us and their words travel a lot farther.

I also give this as an example… you can’t just walk into work and starting yelling at your boss about what a horrible person he/she is, how horrible he/she is as a boss, how bad the company is, and how much you hate your job and think that your right to free speech is going to protect you.  Your boss at that point does have grounds to fire you.  Now this does not mean that if you were to have a Jewish boss, that he/she could fire you if you walked up and said, “Praise, Jesus, for He is King.”

Nothing sets off religious furor more than same-sex marriage.  Let’s be clear about this.  The First Amendment allows us the freedom to peacefully worship however we choose without government interference and does not establish an official religion for the nation.  No one has the right though to take their religious beliefs and impose them on other people that do not share in those beliefs.  One can state that they aren’t against same-sex marriage because of their religion, but they don’t have the right to impose that view on others that do not share it.

Anytime I hear a politician stating that they want to make the Bible the law of the nation, my brain screams that they can’t legally do that.  It would violate the First Amendment for those that don’t follow the Bible… or have different interpretations.  All politicians are supposed to uphold one key document… the US Constitution (state constitutions, as well, for state politicians).  Nothing, not even someone’s religion, can violate that document for it is the rule of law that all of society must abide by.

My point in all of this is that we do all share the same rights but those rights are self-inclusive.  They do not extend beyond us and our connection to the government.  So though our rights are protected, they do have a finite space.

One Response to Where Do Our Rights Begin and End?

  1. Kendra Everett says:

    Although the Constitution does not speak in so many words of the right of privacy in marriage, I cannot believe that it offers these fundamental rights no protection. The fact that no particular provision of the Constitution [p496] explicitly forbids the State from disrupting the traditional relation of the family — a relation as old and as fundamental as our entire civilization — surely does not show that the Government was meant to have the power to do so. Rather, as the Ninth Amendment expressly recognizes, there are fundamental personal rights such as this one, which are protected from abridgment by the Government, though not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

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