Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the right to be left alone the “most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by a free people.” It would even be fair to say that without the right to be left alone no other rights exist.
Amendments one through ten of the Bill of Rights are essentially an enumeration of the ways that government is obligated to leave people alone. This is most explicitly true of the First Amendment which definitively sums up areas of human life into which government under no circumstance may trespass on.
Unlike other amendments, the territory that the First Amendment deals with is intellectual and spiritual, the world of ideas, the realm of faith and the defining right of political advocacy. The freedoms of the mind, heart and voice are the most essential of freedoms because they free us to be individuals. They allow us to have our own values. Without these freedoms, no society is free.
Those who sought to undermine these “Freedoms from Government” did so by offering alternative “Freedoms of Government.” Countering the Founding Fathers’ DMZ’s of self-determination, they promised freedom from social problems. A second Bill of Rights would offer the freedom from fear and want. Instead of a liberation from government, the new rights would trade social benefits for freedoms. A right would not mean a zone of freedom from the government, but a government entitlement.
The Orwellian inversion of rights has meant that civil rights perversely take away rights. No sooner is a right created than it is used to deprive other people of their rights. Instead of rights freeing people from government repression, they act as a means of government repression. Freedom is treated as a limited commodity which, like wealth, must be redistributed to achieve maximum social justice.
The right to be left alone, freedom of speech and conscience, have taken a back seat to the redistribution of freedom. Government rights violate individual rights by compelling everyone to participate in the process of distributing entitlements.
A wedding photographer in New Mexico was ordered by a court to participate in a gay ceremony violating both her First Amendment rights to Freedom of Religion as a Christian and her right to Freedom of Speech as an artist. A baker in Colorado was ordered to make a gay wedding cake or face penalties ranging from fines to a year in prison. The ACLU is after even bigger game suing Catholic hospitals for not engaging in abortion contending that patients are being deprived of their rights.
The fundamental issue in all these cases is whether our rights are defined by the ability to be left alone or by the opposing ability to compel others to do what we want them to. Is the right to force someone else to participate in your wedding or perform your abortion more compelling than the right to opt out of being forced to engage in behaviors that violate your deepest religious convictions?
America is a nation founded by religious dissenters. Its founding documents, from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights make the moral case for dissent. The Declaration of Independence begins by setting out a moral case for separation, for the divorce of authority, based on the moral principle of individual freedom. It makes government conditional on liberty, rather than making liberty conditional on government.
Today the national establishment is intolerant of dissent. It traps the current of freedom in dams of entitlements. It pits the right to be against the right to receive and makes certain that the right to receive, not only the property of others, but their very conscience, mind and liberty, always wins out.
The United States is following the European course of rendering the distinction between the state and the church irrelevant by making the state into the church and mandating that everyone worship it. As in 19th century Europe, deliberate clashes are being stirred up between the values of the state and religious values for the purpose of demonstrating that the values of the state are supreme.
The expansion of state power is rapidly becoming limitless. The old legal justifications that linked Federal intervention in civil rights to interstate commerce and public accommodation have given way to a redefinition of any and all establishments as public accommodations. Courts argue that once an individual begins to sell a product or service, he loses access to all his Constitutional freedoms.
The core issue transcends the hot button social issues such as gay marriage and abortion embraced by the elites of a permissive society and addresses the deeper inversion of rights that is at the heart of the problem.
Reproductive rights and gay rights activists both campaigned to be left alone. There are still gay protests with placards arguing that their marriages are no one else’s business and pro-abortion rallies demanding that politicians stay out of the bedroom. But if the marriage of Adam and Steve shouldn’t be at the disposal of Harry and Julie, why should Harry’s bakery and Julie’s talent be at the disposal of Adam and Steve? If the government should stay out of the bedroom, then why must it dive into the bedroom to compel the owners of companies like Hobby Lobby to subsidize violations of their faith?
Cases like these show that the issue is not rights, but control. If the only way to obtain what you call your rights is by compelling someone else to give up theirs then what you are really demanding is not a right, but a means of imposing your values and your convictions on someone else. And that is not a matter of civil rights. It is an ideological and religious war with government siding with whoever has the most money to invest in strategic campaign contributions for the culture war.
Individual rights exist in the empty spaces that government is forced out of. Government rights however do not exist until everyone is forced to provide them. That is true of the redistribution of wealth and property, but it is even truer of the redistribution of freedom and the confiscation of conscience.
Whatever right government has to the seizure of wealth, it has none to the seizure of conscience. If there is any place that the government has no right to intrude, not in the name of social justice or political correctness or the progressive utopia awaiting us on the other side of the regulatory mirror, it is the territories of the First Amendment, sacred not only in idea, but also in practice.
There can be no faith, no ideas and no individuality without the First Amendment. Without the right to be left alone in your beliefs, your values and your convictions, there can be no other rights and the very notion of rights, no matter how often it is used to describe everything from free health care to gay marriage, cannot exist.
And it is into this sacred territory that the judicial activists of gay marriage have dared to intrude.
Rights can either be defined by the virtue of the individual in his liberty or the virtue of the government in its authoritarianism. But it cannot be defined by both. Either you have the right to be free or you have the right to the property and the service of another human being. The choice is the fundamental one between freedom and slavery.
Social justice denies the virtue of freedom, it rejects the possibility of self-determination without external intervention, it dismisses the idea that people can be free without a system of redistributing freedom from the oppressors to the oppressed so that the oppressed become the new oppressors. It rejects any alternative to entitlements as entitlement and any alternative to privilege as privilege.
The moral argument for freedom is the self-organizing principle of individuals. The moral argument for compulsion is that the system is superior to individuals. The left has chosen central planning in human rights as it has in every other area of life. It believes with the paradoxical perversity of doublethink that freedom can only come from government because only a central authority is qualified to provide the equal distribution of freedom within carefully planned limits.
This abrogation of freedom is the logical end result of the left’s entire pattern of reasoning which rejects the individual for the collective, the working man for the planner and the people for the ideological expert. These forms of repression are expressions of its rotten notion that the left may do anything and everything in the name of freedom except actually allow the people to be free.
Without the right to be left alone, there are no other individual rights. Without individual rights, there is no such thing as a free society.
Every group is sooner or later faced with choosing whether it wants to win a final conclusive victory over its enemies or whether it wants to be free. The tyrannical choice is tempting, but it unleashes a cycle of conflict and repression that can only end with extermination. And once that choice is made, the formerly oppressed forfeit all their moral authority as they abandon freedom for tyranny.