The bells of freedom
I would prefer to tell you about the peal of eight bells I heard across the fields the other day - a flight of bells, winging and ringing across the meadows - but David rightly thinks you would prefer hearing about a court case with inspiring implications for all of us.
The case may strike you as an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of situation. Suppose you are in a country where the law of the land says that you have the right to bear arms and speak freely. Wouldn't you then assume that if you are living in the town of C in that country you would be able to bear arms and speak freely?
We certainly would, but in the town of Chicago, the powers that be decided differently. They insisted on telling Otis McDonald that he could not defend his family with arms, but must depend on the city's lackadaisical police department to do his defending for him. Otis is a soft-spoken, humble man, but he did not take this lying down. He appealed. Eventually he appealed to the Supreme Court.
A landmark US decision based on British law and tradition
In a landmark 5 to 4 decision this year, the Supreme Court of the United States held that Chicago was wrong and that the right of Otis and every individual to keep and bear arms was protected by the Constitution no matter where he lived and could not be infringed by any city, county or state. Judge Clarence Thomas concurred with the decision but disagreed about the reason why. He dug up ancient British history to explain something crucial about the source of British and American liberties. It seems to us he also put his finger on a real problem, one that makes us mute with disbelief before the absurdities of Congress, Parliament and recent EU treaties. First Thomas explained the history -
. . .it had long been established that both the States and the Federal Government existed to preserve their citizens’ inalienable rights, and that these rights were considered “privileges” or “immunities” of citizenship. This tradition begins with our country’s English roots.
. . .As English subjects, the colonists considered themselves to be vested with the same fundamental rights as other Englishmen. They consistently claimed the rights of English citizenship in their founding documents, repeatedly referring to these rights as “privileges” and “immunities.” For example, a Maryland law provided that “[A]ll the Inhabitants of this Province. . .Shall have and enjoy all such rights liberties immunities priviledges and free customs within this Province as any naturall born subject of England hath or ought to have or enjoy in the Realm of England . . . .” Maryland Act for the Liberties of the People (1639), in id., at 68 [a phrase deleted by us-Ed.].
See also, e.g., the Charter of Virginia (1606), reprinted in The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws 3783, 3788 (F. Thorpe ed. 1909) (hereinafter Thorpe) (“DECLAR[ING]” that “all and every the Persons being our Subjects, . . . shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities . . . as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England”; Charter of New England (1620), in 3 id., at 1827, 1839.
Interestingly almost identical language was used by the Sovereign for the Charters of Massachusetts Bay in 1629 and Rhode Island in 1663. The King, at least, had a nodding acquaintance with the 'Liberties, Franchises and Immunities' belonging to the people.
Thomas continued -
As tensions between England and the Colonies increased, the colonists adopted protest resolutions reasserting their claim to the inalienable rights of Englishmen.
. . .As the Massachusetts Resolves declared: “Resolved, That there are certain essential Rights of the British Constitution of Government, which are founded in the Law of God and Nature, and are the common Rights of Mankind Therefore. . . . . “Resolved, That no Man can justly take the Property of another without his Consent: And that upon this original Principle the Right of Representation . . . is evidently founded. . . . Resolved, That this inherent Right, together with all other, essential Rights, Liberties, Privileges and Immunities of the People of Great Britain, have been fully confirmed to them by Magna Charta.” The Massachusetts Resolves (Oct. 29, 1765), reprinted in Prologue to Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764−1766, p. 56.
The source of our rights?
So, we have rights described in colonial charters, Common Law, the British Constitution, and later by the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Indeed, the US Supreme Court has relied on ancient British rights to defend American rights. This is one reason why we are amazed by freedom-smothering politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, but there is another, more profound and personal reason. To spell it out -
. . .there are certain essential Rights. . .which are founded in the Law of God and Nature, and are the common Rights of Mankind.
Exactly. Full stop. We have rights founded in the Law of God and/or Nature, which are the common Rights of Mankind. Those rights include free speech, freedom of conscience, the right to our property, the right to representation and the 'great right of trial by jury' which can protect us from government's unjust laws.
These rights were 'fully confirmed. . .by Magna Charta'. But Magna Charta does not give them to us. Parliament does not give them to us. Congress does not give them to us. No government gives them to us. They are ours by birthright.
That is why we gaze open-mouthed when Parliament or Congress or the City of Chicago try to deny us our rights. We cannot believe they are serious. We are amazed they are arguing whether we have a legal right to our natural rights. We refuse to believe that they can give away rights that do not belong to them. We ignore them at our peril.
And here's the rub
Thomas declares that
. .'These fundamental rights, according to the English tradition, belonged to all people but became legally enforceable only when recognized in legal texts, including acts of Parliament and the decisions of common-law judges'.
They are inalienable rights, but they are given legal effect by their codification in a constitution. And even if our constitution lucidly and unequivocally describes them, we may be deprived of them.
What do we do if Parliament reverses a thousand years of the people's efforts to see their natural rights codified and protected by law and throws away the people's rights and liberties in treaties with the European Union? What do we do if just two more judges who are opposed to the people's natural right to defend themselves against the strong and violent are appointed to the Supreme Court?
We ourselves become the bells of freedom.