Legal Burlesque

What is the status of privacy rights in America today? Two stories from the headlines give you a good indication. In Georgia, a controversy is raging over whether the Augusta National Golf Club should be forced to accept women members. Some members of the club have been forced by their companies to quit. Feminist groups are frothing. And editorials are denouncing the private club's insistence on the right of free association. Case number two: A Colorado woman, the wife of a shop owner, hands a brochure to an employee describing religious programs that help homosexuals leave the gay lifestyle. For this expression of her religious beliefs, the woman is forced, under local gay rights laws, to undergo "counseling." It seems that when it comes to sexual privacy, no one is allowed to pass judgment on others. But when it comes to other kinds of privacy rights -- like the right of freedom of association or religious expression -- those are fair game for judgment. How did we arrive at this chaotic state of affairs? Hadley Arkes, a moral philosopher at Amherst College, says it came about through the loss of understanding of natural law and, thus, of natural rights. In his new book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, Arkes notes that natural rights are the rights that are the same in all places and at all times. America's founders referred to natural rights as "self-evident truths." They knew that laws that ignored natural rights were unjust laws. Two centuries later, secular scholars are deeply hostile toward any notion of moral truths that are binding on all people. Instead, they suggest that we have nothing more than opinions about right and wrong. Humans have no fixed nature, they claim, and thus settled rights cannot arise from that nature. This belief has had a tremendous impact on the law. The founders argued that the purpose of government is to secure the rights we already possess by nature and given to us by God. Today, writes Arkes, secular scholars insist that we would be better off if politicians abandoned "fables about our natures, and such emphatic notions of right and wrong." But if the Constitution really is based on truth, as the founders contended, then we can't somehow "advance" beyond it. Attempts to do so will inevitably lead to tyranny. And, sad to say, this is already happening in America. Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court found the "right to privacy" in the Constitution. This so-called "right" has enabled judges to overturn laws in the name of a whole new array of rights -- including the right to abortion-on-demand at any stage of pregnancy. But without a transcendent standard, there is no consistency. Private corporations and universities are denied the right to hire and fire according to their own criteria. Private groups -- like the golf clubs or the Boy Scouts -- are attacked for daring to define their own character. Where are their private rights? But in the name of an alleged right to sexual privacy, the law is being used as a sledgehammer to punish people who criticize the sexual behavior of others. Next week, we'll continue this series based on Hadley Arkes's book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose. You'll learn more about how the denial of the logic of natural rights threatens, not only our rights to free speech and religious practice, but the right to life itself. For further reading and information: This year's March for Life in Washington, D.C., will take place Wednesday, January 22, 2003. Hadley Arkes, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, 2002). Scott Michaux, "Howell says controversy is costing Augusta," Augusta Chronicle, 8 January 2003. "National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2003," a proclamation by the president of the United States of America, 14 January 2003. "Roe v. Wade: Key U.S. abortion ruling," BBC News, 16 January 2003. Dr. Frank Beckwith, "Roe v. Wade: Abortion on Demand," Peter Kreeft, Three Approaches to Abortion (Ignatius Press, 2002). Diana DePaul, Gianna Jessen, and Jessica Shaver, Gianna: Aborted . . . and Lived to Tell about It (Bethany House, 1999). Learn how you can make a difference in the culture with the "BreakPoint Culture of Life Packet." It includes the booklet "Building a Culture of Life: A Call to Respect Human Dignity in American Life" and a "BreakPoint This Week" special broadcast CD that includes an interview with Wilberforce Forum Fellow William Saunders, Human Rights Counsel and Senior Fellow in Human Life Studies for Family Research Council, along with a speech, "Bioethics and the Clash of Orthodoxies," by Dr. Robert George.


Chuck Colson


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