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Governments: Do your job; protect our rights

By Henry Lamb
web posted February 26, 2007

The right to speak freely; the right to worship freely; and the right to pursue happiness, are defined by our founders to be "unalienable rights," endowed by our Creator.  The pursuit of happiness begins with the ownership of property.  The absence of the right to own property  is slavery.  These rights are enshrined in our Constitution which created a government expressly for the purpose of "securing" these rights.

Government was given the authority to take private property under certain conditions, "...for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings...."  The Fifth Amendment says: "...nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."  Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution say that government may take private property for a "public purpose."   This addition to the Constitution is a gift, from the U.S. Supreme Court, to governments at every level.

The Kelo et al. v. City of New London et al., decided in 2005,  reaffirmed the power of state and local government to take private property from one owner, and give or sell it to another private owner, as long as the taking could be described to serve some "public purpose," rather than a "public use."  This horrible decision launched a parade of measures to prohibit the use of eminent domain to transfer private property from one owner to another private owner, simply for the sake of so-called "economic development."

Utah was one of the first states to prohibit its Rural Development Authorities from using eminent domain power to take private property on the pretext that the takings would somehow serve a "public purpose."  Citizens of Utah were proud of their Legislature for recognizing the threat to private property rights, and responding responsibly.

Now, however, at the urging of  the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Legislature is considering reversing its previous private property rights protection by restoring eminent domain power to local governments for economic development, a so-called acceptable "public purpose."  Under the proposed "compromise" legislation, a municipality would first have to declare an area to be "blighted."  Blight, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder. 

Where is the Utah government that should be protecting the property rights of land owners in Utah?

Where is the Oregon Government that should be protecting its citizens?  Twice, the people of Oregon have approved property rights protection initiatives, most recently, Measure 37.  The first time, the courts overturned the clear wishes of the people.  The people corrected the initiative to answer the court's objections, and overwhelmingly approved the initiative again.

Now the Governor, Ted Kulongoski, has asked the legislature to modify Measure 37, and take away the private property protections the initiative provided.  The legislature is now considering Senate Bill 505, which, far from securing the rights guaranteed to each American by the U.S. Constitution, would destroy them.

In Washington State, King County  implemented what was called a "65-35" plan, which means that the landowner can use only 35% of his land, leaving 65% in its "natural" condition.  Of course, the owner must pay taxes on 100% of the property.  In Northampton County,  Pennsylvania,  a similar proposal is under consideration, except that it is a "90-10" plan, in which 90% of the land must remain untouched, while only 10% can be developed.

Why are governments rushing to erase  private property rights, instead of protecting them?  It's almost as if a generation of socialists has been produced by our public education system, a generation that encourages government to limit Constitutionally-guaranteed individual freedom in order to achieve some perceived "public purpose."  It doesn't matter whether the public has endorsed the purpose, it matters only that a government agency has declared the purpose to be "public." 

In his 1787  "A Defense of the American Constitutions," John Adams said:

"The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence."

The moment Adams feared has arrived.  The idea that property is no longer sacred has been admitted into society.  As the legislatures in Utah, Oregon, and other states yield to this idea advanced by  the League of Cities, and other non-elected lobbying forces, the force of law is twisted to protect - not the sacred right of  property ownership - but the desires of non-elected bureaucrats, and those who profit at the expense of others.
 The only power stronger than lobbyists' money is the power of determined voters expressed at the ballot box.  The right to speak freely; to worship freely; and to own property in the pursuit of happiness is threatened by a generation who never knew John Adams, nor the principles of freedom he helped define.  Elected officials must be told - so they know beyond any doubt - that the vast majority of their constituents do want the principles of freedom protected, and retained exactly as they were defined by Adams and the other founders of this great country.  Let's get busy. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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