Posted on

Looking for ‘Inalienable Rights’, God in US Constitution



Editor: It’s with more than a hint of bemusement that I’ve watched the battle over whether to add the phrase “inalienable rights” to the proposed new Constitution. The successful charge for this addition was led by the Thusian Institute for Religious Liberty (TIRL), although many other Vincentians jumped on the “inalienable” bandwagon as time went on.{{more}}

To many, the phrase is a vaguely familiar one. Having been inundated with North American political culture, many Vincentians are familiar with the famous passage that states: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We associate the phrase with the United States, and – as with all things American – we ascribe it automatic legitimacy as an ideal worth pursuing. Listening to our call-in show “experts” on constitutional reform, I’ve heard the claim that it’s good enough for the Americans, so it should be good enough for us, too (or words to that effect).

But here is the shocker: The phrase “inalienable rights” (or “UNalienable rights”) does NOT appear anywhere in the US Constitution! Not one single place. Look it up. Instead, the words are in the U.S. Declaration of Independence!

You may wonder whether it makes any difference if the phrase appears in the U.S. Constitution or its Declaration of Independence. The difference is massive. The two documents are completely different, and serve completely different purposes. Firstly, it is the Constitution that sets forth your rights and the limitations on state powers, not the Declaration of Independence. No one has ever gone to court saying “my Declaration of Independence rights have been violated.” It can’t happen. Your constitutional rights are located in the Constitution only, and that document doesn’t speak of “inalienable rights” in the USA.

There are other rights in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that aren’t in the Constitution, including the “right and duty” to “throw off Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security” – in other words, the right and obligation to participate in revolutions. Imagine THAT right in our civil constitution!

In fact, the words “God” and “Creator” are also absent from the U.S. Constitution, as part of its well-known separation between church and state. There is no God whatsoever in the U.S. Constitution, and intentionally so. As such, you couldn’t really argue a divine basis for any U.S. Constitutional right. You can imply it, but you could also imply it in the Vincentian Constitution, without this entire hullabaloo for an explicit mention.

What about these other inalienable rights being advocated, like the right to own property? Such an inalienable right does not exist in either the U.S. Constitution or its Declaration of Independence. American historians have demonstrated that first draft of the Declaration of Independence contained an unalienable right to “the means of acquiring and possessing property.” However, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson decided to take the government out of the property business, and instead focused on the pursuit of happiness. Only “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” make it to the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. And the phrase simply does not exist in the U.S. Constitution.

Years later, Franklin famously said that you don’t have a right to happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch it yourself. A more qualified and ill-defined “right” could scarcely be imagined.

Somehow, people have been using the most avowedly non-religious democratic Constitution in the world (USA’s) as the basis to advocate the addition of religious language in our Vincentian version! People are advocating the explicit mention of a phrase by citing a document where the phrase does not exist! The dangers of misapplying and misunderstanding foreign Constitutions, instead of focusing on our home-grown needs and circumstances, can scarcely be overstated.

Those of you who see a role for God, for inalienable rights generally, or for inalienable rights to property – please don’t look to the U.S. Constitution. You’re barking up the wrong tree. In these areas, and many others, the proposed Vincentian Constitution is clearly the superior document.

Vincy Patriot