A few days ago, on an afternoon stroll through Loveland, I passed the Post Office where a man was urging people to sign a petition to amend the Ohio state constitution to reject the health care reform bill that the U.S. Congress passed. When he asked me if I would like to sign his petition, I politely explained that I was not interested as I supported the reform of America’s health care system.
I began to walk away when he called after me, “It will take away your civil rights, you know!” As a parting shot against my belief in fixing a broken system, it may not have been that great, but he clearly knew that he need to speak to his audience. As a long-haired liberal, there is no greater rallying cry to me than “Civil rights!” I turned around, walked back to him, and asked what he meant.
He patiently explained that, under the pejoratively named “Obama-care” that the right uses to disparage the necessary reform, all Americans would be required to possess health insurance under penalty of law, which might include fines for violation. This, he told me, was inimitable with the idea of personal rights and a fundamental right to choice that the U.S. Constitution enshrines for all of us.
“Well, that’s true,” I told him. “But how do you explain seat belts?”
“Seat belts?” he asked.
Right, seat belts. When you get into a car, you put on your set belt. There may be a myriad of reasons as to why you do it, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that you are legally required to do so. The state has determined that your rights end while it possesses a broad authority to legislate public health. Seat belts save lives and therefore it is in the state’s interest to mandate that everyone wear one (obviously, motorcycle enthusiasts have a better lobbying group since no law mandates that they wear helmets).
The same can also be said of snow emergencies. Should Hamilton County declare a Level 3 Snow Emergency, anyone found driving on public roads (which, through your tax dollars, you basically own) can face arrest by law enforcement officers. The state can legislate when you are free to drive on streets due to a weather event.
We basically give up our personal liberties all the time in the face of public health issues.
The idea that civil liberties extend to every choice that we make is inherently flawed. Obviously, an individual is not free to choose to do anything to pursue a personal notion of happiness. If one were so entitled, how could one be prosecuted for statutory rape or child molestation or even murder?
There can be no doubt that the teacher who slept with one of her 14-year old students was made happy by the event, and I’ve certainly wanted to kill a few people in my life, and may have even been made happy by it; nonetheless, the bonds of our society call us to cease to embrace the idea that civil rights are equatable with notions of personal happiness.
Indeed, in the same way, I am not free to choose to not wear a seat belt unless I want to receive a ticket should I be pulled over by my friendly local police officer. Nor can I argue that my need for chocolate (and anyone who knows me knows how often I use chocolate as an excuse) entitles me to drive during a snow emergency where the potential to cause an accident and endanger others lives through my carelessness is a justifiable excuse.
Yet, the right-wing nutjob standing outside of my post office believed in the notion that personal liberty was paramount in this argument. I would wonder, of course, what he thought about abortion as a personal right of women or for those that argue that smoking marijuana is no different than smoking cigarettes or having a beer and therefore should be considered a personal right in one’s home.
It is this sort of hypocritical line of reasoning that the right is fantastic at; just watch any of the rambling twits on FOX NEWS for proof of how logic never makes them falter when delivering an impassioned plea to reverse the oncoming tide of social change and progress.
Of course, the other fatal flaw is the notion that amending a state’s constitution would in any manner affect a federal law. Congress justified the health care reform bill under the Constitution’s “commerce clause” which grants an enumerated right to the federal government to regulate commerce. This means that this bill has been specifically justified under anyone’s notion of constitutional muster. Of course, under the Constitution’s “superiority clause,” federal law always overrides a state’s law, should the two conflict. We will see this same principle at work in the Arizona state immigration law which will be declared unlawful eventually.
As I calmly and rationally explained these things to the man with the petition, I could tell that he was not even remotely interested in debating logically. He merely rolled his eyes at me and muttered, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Of course, I’m guilty of the same response every time Glenn Back opens his mouth.
Like what you’ve read in today’s article from the Cincinnati Liberal Issues Examiner? Consider subscribing! It’s completely free and offers the convenience of future articles appearing directly in your email’s in-box! Just click the subscribe button below the headline of today’s article.