In Article 1, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution – in a section that is often merely labelled a section on Religious Freedom – it states:
“The Rights of Conscience shall not be infringed.”
This sentence wisely appears before the protection of religious freedom, since logically, as will be shown, the rights of conscience are the foundation for even the importance of religious freedom, let alone the protection thereof. Who would dispute the fact that religious beliefs have as their basis personal belief? In fact, religious freedom is but one category of extension, if you will, of the rights of conscience that everyone has, and yet hardly anyone thoughtfully recognizes.
AN ATTEMPTED BRIEF OUTLINE ON THE PRINCIPLE OF CONSCIENCE
First, what is Conscience?
The root of the word is derived from the Latin word conscius, which means literally “with knowing”. The word conscious, as in being aware of one’s thoughts, or being “alive” as some may put it, comes from this same root word.
Yet, this Latin root still doesn’t, ipso facto, capture the totality of the concept I am attempting to outline.
Conscience is something that is universally had amongst all of mankind. It is a base for our thoughts, beliefs, opinions, etc. – all of which have enormous effects on our desires, actions, and our personal pursuit of happiness. It could be accurately stated that the Rights of Conscience are only second in importance to the Right of Life itself. In fact, if life is seen as the basis of existence, conscience should be seen as the motivator in the use of that life.
Conscience is not only an individual moral compass; it is the thoughts within us, with our very emotions, opinions, and determinations being part of the symptoms of it’s existence.
The 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary defines the word conscience in part as:
“Internal or self-knowledge, or judgement of right and wrong; or the faculty, power or principle within us, which decides on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our own actions and afflictions, and instantly approves or condemns them…Real sentiment; private thoughts” (underline added)
Although our beliefs, thoughts, opinions, determinations, etc. are often termed the “rights of conscience” (and accurately enough), this author hopes to add further realization to the comprehensive nature of the conscience itself. Since those “rights of conscience” (thoughts, beliefs, etc.) are necessarily a factor in the acquisition of any other form of property, then every Right – save the Right of Life alone – truly could be considered a right of conscience.
In other words, except the Right of Life itself, any claim we lawfully have in life must necessarily be connected to the mental capacity that drives that life – therefore, every right we have, even every property right, will be a form of the ultimate Rights of Conscience. Conscience is not only a force which motivates the use of life itself, but it is the mental faculty which gives life meaning!
AN ATTEMPTED BRIEF OUTLINE ON THE PRINCIPLE OF PROPERTY
Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edition, defines property, in part, as:
“The right to possess, use, and enjoy a determinate thing..;the right of ownership. Any external thing over which the rights of possession, use, and enjoyment are exercised.”
Although this definition is fairly clear, it still seems to merely deal with the symptom rather than the source. Where does this exclusive “right” to property come from, to begin with?
To be even more precise, I will paraphrase a definition used by the great scholars Andrew J. Galambos and J. Stuart Snelson: Property is a volitional individual being’s life, and all non-procreative derivatives thereof. Whether it is acquired directly through your work, ideas, or through voluntary exchange – property is simply a derivative of your life. Thus, someone who claims to care so much about “the right to life”, must (to be fully consistent) care about property rights – in all its various forms.
Although there are many different types of property, there are two main overarching categories of property:
1) Intangible, or Incorporeal Property; which are justly owned, yet not material. (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, personal time, etc.)
2) Tangible, or Corporeal Property; examples of this would be material things, or property which could be more easily perceived. (e.g. food. clothing, shelter, etc.)
Both of these types of property are based on the existence of life itself. Therefore, life could justly be considered Primordial Property. But, since tangible property often comes as a direct result of the use of intangible property (e.g. thoughts, personal time, ideas, etc.) – intangible property can be thought of as Primary Property, whereas material acquisitions (e.g. cars, houses, food, clothing, etc.) can be thought of as Secondary Property.
Now, the author hopes that the limited nature of the extent of property rights is clear to the reader. Take these two quick questions as evidence of this being very simple for anyone to understand:
1 – Assuming no plagiarism – If a songwriter or band, using three common musical chords (G, D, and C for example) wrote a song – would those chords themselves be their property – or merely the order and melody that came about as a result of their using those chords? It is obvious that it would merely be the songs which they produced – not the chords themselves which they used.
2 – Assuming no prior ownership of the tree – If someone climbs a tree and acquires an apple for eating, his work in attaining that apple creates ownership of it. Yet, would that mean that all apples everywhere are now this person’s property? No. Merely that apple that he acquired via the use of his time and effort.
These two (hopefully adequate) thought experiments demonstrate that the extent of ownership will be relative to the property which is acquired – or in other words, the things which are actually derivatives of your life.
The acquisition of Property has only one source: Individual Volitional Action.
The word volition comes from the Latin word volo, meaning “I will”, which word in its verb form is velle, which means “To will”. The word, as defined by Google, means “the faculty or power of using one’s will”.
We don’t find almost all forms of property in nature of themselves. There are no democracy trees from which Solon or Pericles plucked the basis of the Athenian social structure – let alone a house or car tree from which you, the reader, plucked some of the basic conveniences found in modern western society. There are no iphone trees, or top ramen bushes from which the youth are able to pick from to yield a subsistence. These things have come about via the discovery of ideas and principles coupled with the discovery of their practical application.
Simply put, it took someone’s volitional effort to bring about that property’s existence – in all the various categories and forms of property.
Once again: The acquisition of any property has only one source: Individual Volitional Action. Even groups of people are made up of individuals – just as a forest is made up of individual trees, and therefore, is no exception to this rule.
And that being said, the acquisition of property, via individual choice, can only come about either:
1) Voluntarily, or
That covers all possible choices.
And in terms of the involuntary acquisition of property – this can either come about directly by ourselves, or indirectly by proxy through those whom we hire and/or support.
RIGHTS OF PROPERTY, PROPERTY OF RIGHTS – AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROPERTY AND PROPERTY RIGHTS
Ownership being a right, and a right (or “just claim”) having the attribute of ownership relative to the individual persons who have them, rights themselves are a form of personal property, if you will. James Madison, the Father of the US Constitution, made the keen observation that: “as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” (Essay on Property; Mar. 29, 1792)
Therefore, we truly do ourselves a disservice if we limit our understanding of property to merely material things. That is not to demean the importance of material things; things which we need to even survive at all. It is merely to show that the progress in opportunity for comfort and convenience in material things have themselves come as a result of the amazing progress in the development of primary property and the discovery of intangible, applicable principles.
And as Madison stated, our rights themselves, even our individual freedom and responsibilities, and even our very happiness, all have the attributes associated with personal property in relation to ourselves, as well as to other people in society. Rights themselves, including civil and legal privileges, are an example of incorporeal or intangible, primary property.
In fact, if there is any angle where this ‘property of rights’ angle is incorrect, it is found only in the least important form of property: secondary property. This is due to the fact that one can get rid of, or separate themselves, from secondary property – whereas their rights, including the rights of conscience, are unalienable.
This view was even pointed out, albeit without endorsement, by John Salmond, the legal scholar of the early 20th Century, who states in his work Jurisprudence that: “In its widest sense, property includes all a person’s legal rights, of whatever description. A man’s property is all that is his in law.” (quoted from Black’s Law Dictionary, emphasis in original.) With a broad view and more succinct understanding of what Natural Law truly is (all the laws that are independent of mankind and are, essentially, the unvarying system of causes and effects), this sentence is perhaps more true than what was even intended by Salmond.
That being said, there must be a recognition of the difference between property and property rights for further accuracy and precision in understanding.
Whereas property consists of some sort of organized material, sometimes tangible and sometimes intangible, property rights are always intangible and are merely lawful (and hopefully legal) claims in relation to other people – since it is only other people who don’t have a lawful ability to infringe upon your lawfully acquired property. The property right is found in relation to another person pertaining to the material, and not merely to the material itself.
To quote legal scholar H. Verlan Andersen:
“Property arises from the organizing efforts of individuals and its ownership is vested in the one who expended the necessary physical and mental energy to bring it into existence or obtained title to it otherwise. But what rights does this title give? The only rights one can possibly have as a result of ownership are against people rather than against the property. A property right is the right to use the police power to compel another to do something about property – either to leave it alone or take some affirmative action concerning it…A property right is meaningless unless it enables its owner to use force against other people.”
We do not seek to have rights to a piece of inanimate property to be enforced against other inanimate objects, or to have rights to animate property (e.g. pets) to be enforced directly against other forms of animate property – but to have property rights enforceable against other volitional beings, our peers, in society.
In the current legal framework, or at least the framework as intended by the Constitutional system, this protection of property was dealt with in both Criminal and Civil law, via tort laws – “which permit recovery from those who cause injury”.
Criminal Law was to punish those who intentionally damage the property of others, and to aid in facilitating reparations for the damage which was done. Civil Law was to deal with cases of damage committed unintentionally. The element of “intent” which separates the two simultaneously demonstrates the crucial relevance of the consideration of conscience in any political/legal topic.
CONSCIENCE: A NEGLECTED PROPERTY RIGHT – AND DUTY
All of the above article was written merely for this author’s ability to point out in a way the reader can truly understand, that the Rights of Conscience are sacred and will absolutely be respected as such in a free society! It is a big part of the driving force behind every person’s pursuit of happiness, and is truly the foundation for even a tacit respect for religious freedom.
The right to believe and live life based on those beliefs are certainly two different things. It should be noted that belief in anything, in and of itself, does not violate any other person’s rights. It is a right! Even a belief that murder is moral does not violate the rights of another person.
Living a life based on those beliefs is also a right that, like all other rights, is coupled with the Duty to not inhibit any one else’s right to do the same – which does come with more restrictions. The restrictions are not arbitrary, or subject to the whim of some faction, but merely a recognition of the distinction between the palpable effect of beliefs and actions or conduct, on other people. This emphasis on duties applies to all rights, including property rights – All of which come with the associated duty to allow others the free exercise of the same right! The duty doesn’t diminish the right, but actually completes the concept.
Yet, so many times the State has not only become a vehicle for a violation of the more tangible forms of property of which it was its’ original purpose to protect – but it also becomes a vehicle for the violation of the rights of conscience as well. It becomes used as a way for one faction to force an opinion on people – often under the guise of “morality” and “religious principle”. Of course, these same people, no doubt, would hardly desire a viewpoint they disagree with to be forced on them.
In the founders’ day, this thought-bullying was often perpetrated through state churches – which the people were not only forced to support monetarily, but also coerced with a sort of forced “representation” they were inclined to consider their own by virtue of where they lived.
This had a corrosive impact on the individuals so subject in their own personal journey for happiness in forcing a representation of a set of principles that may or may not even be ones they consider their own! Regardless of whether my ancestors in Britain believed for themselves in the principles of the Church of England, they were forced to pay for that institution as well as culturally pressured to accept its’ principles as their own.
In our day, this is often found with issues such as “drugs”, “marriage”, and even recently in Orem, Utah with the PacSun T-shirt debacle. Would one of these conservative crusaders feel it moral to personally force their belief on a definition of marriage onto their neighbor? If not, why would they feel comfortable hiring the state to do so in their behalf?
With these so-called “social issues” (as if every political issue isn’t a social one) – these, often self-proclaimed conservatives, often claiming to be against “economic” socialism, all too often endorse a form of “moral” socialism and are tragically comfortable with forcing what they perceive as the desired moral code to be forced upon their neighbors via the mechanism of the State.
This is all outside of the very simple moral code of the proper role of good government found as espoused in the foundation document of American Government – the Declaration of Independence. This is all outside the Golden Rule which the Lord Himself declared to be the foundation of both His Law and the teachings of His Prophets.
In fact, the “christian conservative” movement seems to have neglected the facts pertaining to the Sanhedrin – the very institution that convicted and crucified Jesus Christ – and their hostile efforts to crush Christianity itself in their attempt to force what they considered to be “God’s moral code” on the people of Judea. Would these same people defend those Jews, who were obviously hypocritically hollow in their supposed understanding and appreciation of “the law”, who would have killed the very Law-giver they claimed to revere?
James Madison, the Father of the United States Constitution, stated that “[c]onscience is the most sacred of all property” (Essay on Property; Mar. 29, 1792). In a context which already assumes the utmost sanctity of life itself, this statement should be considered as true enough. Yet, too often, do we not see this rejected even amongst ourselves? As simple as the Golden Rule may seem to all, its’ implementation in practice has been so rare as to be accurately considered an American Myth.
If that provision concerning the Rights of Conscience of the Utah Constitution were to be truly limiting on the State of Utah, and if Property Rights were to be truly protected – the principles behind the Declaration of Independence would necessarily be the social framework for those who would be so blessed to live amongst this society. The Golden Rule would be upheld. That would be the case regardless of whether or not the Declaration of Independence had ever even occurred, and whether or not the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount had ever been recorded and survived until today.
James Madison succinctly stated the truth that: “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.” And is it not yet “self-evident”, or rather, is it not yet “sacred and undeniable” (as Thomas Jefferson put it in his original rough draft of the Declaration) that if a government is violating the very rights of property, including those of conscience, that it was instituted to support…that, at the very least, that Government is not worthy of support?
Some may say this tone is too extreme. Some may say this is too cynical. Some may say that it is too simplistic. Yet, at the end of the day, how can any intellectually honest person discount the fact that True Science has always been the art of explaining the simple, finding the extreme truth, and that of discovering the plain truths that seemingly hid in plain sight? Does anyone doubt the fact that the Law of Gravity isn’t affected by how they feel about it?
At the end of the day, it is entirely up to you and me as to whether or not we make this world a better place or leave it to the trends we have inherited. This author sees this as very much the same vein as asking whether or not the people of Orem, the people of Utah, and the people of this world will seek to uphold those principles of the Golden Rule, the Declaration of Independence, and even the intent behind the Constitutional System…..or not.