By John W. Whitehead
“The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights.”—Hillary Clinton, Meet the Press (April 3, 2016)
When presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declares that unborn babies do not have constitutional rights, she’s not just spouting partisan rhetoric in the heated national debate over abortion. She’s providing us with a glimpse into an increasingly troubling mindset among government officials who believe that the government not only has the power to determine who is deserving of constitutional rights in the eyes of the law but also has the authority to deny those rights to an American citizen.
The unborn are not the only persons being denied their rights under the Constitution.
American families who have their dogs shot, their homes trashed and their children terrorized or, worse, killed by errant SWAT team raids in the middle of the night are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Disabled individuals who are being strip searched, handcuffed, arrested and “diagnosed” by police as dangerous or mentally unstable merely because they stutter and walk unevenly are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
School-aged children as young as 4-years-old who are leg shackled, handcuffed and strip searched for violating school zero tolerance policies by chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun and playing an imaginary game of cops and robbers, or engaging in childish behavior such as crying or jumping are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Unarmed citizens who are tasered or shot by police for daring to hesitate, stutter, move a muscle, flee or disagree in any way with a police order are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Likewise, Americans—young and old alike—who are shot by police because they pointed a garden hose at a police officer, reached for their registration in their glove box, relied upon a cane to steady themselves, or were seen playing with air rifles or BB guns are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Female motorists who are unlucky enough to be pulled over for a questionable traffic infraction only to be subjected by police to cavity searches by the side of the road are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Male pedestrians and motorists alike who are being subjected to roadside strip searches and rectal probes by police based largely on the color of their skin are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
American citizens subjected to government surveillance whereby their phone calls are being listened in on, their mail and text messages read, their movements tracked and their transactions monitored are being denied their rights under the Constitution. The same goes for individuals who are being denied access to body camera footage of their interactions with police, school officials and even medical professionals.
Homeowners who are being fined and arrested for raising chickens in their backyard, allowing the grass in their front yards to grow too long, and holding Bible studies in their homes are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Decorated military veterans who are being arrested for criticizing the government on social media such as Facebook are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Homeless individuals who are being harassed, arrested and run out of towns by laws that criminalize homelessness are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Individuals whose DNA has been forcibly collected and entered into federal and state law enforcement databases whether or not they have been convicted of any crime are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Drivers whose license plates are being scanned, uploaded to a police database and used to map their movements, whether or not they are suspected of any crime, are being denied their rights under the Constitution. The same goes for drivers who are being ticketed for running afoul of red light cameras without any real opportunity to defend themselves against such a charge are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Protesters and activists who are being labeled domestic terrorists and extremists and accused of hate crimes for speaking freely are being denied their rights under the Constitution. Likewise, American citizens who being targeted for assassination by drone strikes abroad without having been charged, tried and convicted of treason are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
Hard-working Americans whose bank accounts, homes, cars, electronics and cash are seized by police (operating according to asset forfeiture schemes that provide profit incentives for highway robbery) are being denied their rights under the Constitution.
So what is the common denominator here?
These are all American citizens—endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away from them, among these the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and they are all being oppressed in one way or another by a government that has grown drunk on power, money and its own authority.
If the government—be it the President, Congress, the courts or any federal, state or local agent or agency—can decide that any person has no rights, then that person becomes less than a citizen, less than human, less than deserving of respect, dignity, civility and bodily integrity. He or she becomes an it, a faceless number that can be tallied and tracked, a quantifiable mass of cells that can be discarded without conscience, an expendable cost that can be written off without a second thought, or an animal that can be bought, sold, branded, chained, caged, bred, neutered and euthanized at will.
It’s a slippery slope that justifies all manner of violations in the name of national security, the interest of the state and the so-called greater good.
Yet those who founded this country believed that what we conceive of as our rights were given to us by God—we are created equal, according to the nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence—and that government cannot create nor can they extinguish our God-given rights. To do so would be to anoint the government with god-like powers and elevate it above the citizenry.
Unfortunately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have been dancing with this particular devil for quite some time now, allowing the government to dictate to us, rather than “we the people” giving marching orders to those whose paychecks are funded with taxpayer dollars.
If we continue to wait for the government to restore our freedoms, respect our rights, rein in its abuses and restrain its agents from riding roughshod over our lives, our liberty and our happiness, then we will be waiting forever.
So what is the answer?
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” warned Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 48 years ago on April 4, 1968. “It must be demanded by the oppressed.”
But how do we demand freedom from our oppressor?
Start by studying history. Take note of the movements that succeeded and the ones that failed. Adopt the tactics of those who successfully brought about reform through nonviolent resistance. Think nationally, but act locally. If you’re not prepared to challenge injustice in your own community, when it happens in your own backyard, then there can be no hope for reining in the government’s abuses at the national level.
Most of all, stop giving the government the power to play god—all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful—and start putting it in its rightful place as our servant: an institution that derives its powers from the consent of the governed (“we the people”) whose primary purpose is to safeguard our rights.