The ‘Land of the Free’ is teaming with individual rights for citizens. We have the right to say what we want, do what we want, be who we want.
Or do we?
One need only to pick up a news publication or turn on the television news to find that these freedoms are constantly being challenged, and that our freedoms terminate when they impose upon the rights of others.
The word “lawsuit” was seldom used in the speech of your grandparents, but lawsuits in today’s America are common enough that most of us can name someone who has been involved in a civil case. These disputes arise from a situation where one person or group of people feel that they have been oppressed or offended by another person or group. So they enact a lawsuit for the purpose of being compensated. Usually the suit involves a legal attempt of one to extract money from the other, but may include other penalties such as fines or jail times. Motivations range far and wide, from those who have truly been victims, to those who are seeking pain for the offender, to those who are just looking for a quick buck.
American courts are swamped with a backlog of cases, where people are just waiting to get their day in court?..or better yet, to intimidate the opposing side to the point that “out of court settlements” are offered. For many civil lawsuits, the primary objective is to extract money. One websearch for the word lawsuit turned up over 19 million webpages that can be viewed for lawsuits. 13 million of these websites have been documented or updated in the last 3 months. Bill O-Reilly’s alleged harassment charges, Wal-Mart vs. employees concerning discrimination, and the A.C.L.U.’s court case in Tennessee to remove the Ten Commandments monument are 3 of many. Mega-businesses sue mega-businesses, arguing that certain business practices of the other has infringed upon the “rights” of that business bringing the suit.
At more local levels, lawsuits for assault, fraudulent business, or just cutting tree limbs that fell on the neighbor’s property enter the list of pending cases. Charges of sexual harassment, racial harassment, and employee abuse can also be viewed from time to time in news segments around the country.
Government agencies are left with the enormous task of sorting out these differences among people?..and issuing a ruling. They are left with the responsibility of making some type of decision to bring settlement; usually a blessing to the winner, and sadness or anger for the loser.
Since the founding of our nation, the planners of the U.S. Constitution were concerned about the rights of individuals, and that the people in the United States could carry on free and productive lives. Would they be pleased to witness the caseload in this country if they were able to return to 2005? Did “being free” mean the right to place monetary values on ones hardship and extract it by law from the other?
The enormous number of case files of the offended keeps lawmakers scrambling to design new laws to bring relief. Laws are developed to deal with future scenarios, to the point that so many laws overlap one another in government’s attempt to imagine the nearly impossible. Our country moves to a more and more socialistic viewpoint as governments mandate more and more of daily living. Such action is often requested by the voters who “want the government to do something about this”.
Some examples of offenses and reactions:
* Martha Stewart, a millionaire and icon figure, is convicted of insider trading. Many people have done similar actions, but Martha is targeted as high profile, and by punishing her it will set an example to others. Upon her release from prison, consideration has been given to installing a leg band on her person so as to track her whereabouts. Yet sexual offenders who are released are typically re-entered into the public with only limited availability to their records or location. An infringement of their privacy, perhaps?
* The second amendment of our constitution states that “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In the District of Columbia, law-abiding citizens are deprived of their national right to own handguns, rifles, or shotguns (because of local laws in D.C.). Yet the District of Columbia has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation. (American Hunter magazine, Feb. 2005)
* The prevalence of class-action lawsuits, such as a lawsuit against a credit card company, because of a loophole in their contract. The lawyer takes home a couple million, and each cardholder gets a check in the mail for less than $5.00.
* A Pennsylvania farmer is fined a hefty sum because his cow manure reaches the stream, yet DEP-approved municipal waste systems are engineer-designed with “emergency overflows” that flush sewage water into streams during 100 year flood periods. (The center region has had two of those in the last 10 years)
And the list goes on. In addition to extracting the last dollar from our neighbor in court, American citizens form a wide variety of watchdog groups to observe and monitor the actions of others, insuring that they play by the rules. Those “rules” are evolving to be the eventual and relentless will of the surrounding public to place restrictions and controls on that parcel or business which is not theirs. It is a migration toward a public policy that favors socialism. Different from communism, private American businesses will still be allowed to own the tools of production, and to make a profit. It isn’t likely that this will be hindered, because the public holds shares of business stock, and hence the public profits as well. But the government and supporting agencies will be the guardians and “policemen” for the businesses. Stiff fines will fund government agencies and provide grant money to support agencies and volunteer groups. The laws of business operation will be defined and redefined??.and redefined??by the government, through a petitioning general public.
An editorial statement in April 14th’s Centre Daily Times reads, “?..we have lost our way and no longer understand that ideas are more important than money and that shared ideals of a community are more significant than the greed of an individual company.” Wow. At first reading, this appears to be a very noble statement. But it fosters the slippery slope of socialism, where the “ideals of a community” supercede the protection of landowners under the law. This is a reasoning that is already subscribed to by many, and has stronger support in areas with higher population density. People are offended by looking at someone else’s clothesline, junk cars, or their limestone mine. Aesthetics, decreasing land values, and liability are often cited as reasons to levy control on neighbors.
The danger here is in creating a set of circumstances that so bind a person or business that activity becomes expensive or impossible. As controls curtail production, the decrease of available goods can cause prices to soar, and inflation to run rampant. Case in point: on the April 25th edition of the CBS Evening News, the newsman reported that President Bush had just met with a Saudi Arabian leader and requested the Saudis to pump crude oil out of the ground at a faster rate for sale to the United States to increase supplies, and thereby reduce the price (now there’s a short term solution!) The news clip pointed out the problem with this is that U.S. refineries are already working at near-capacity. And the real clinker: CBS reported it is approaching impossible to build a new refinery in the United States to produce petroleum products because of U.S. law with regard to environmental controls, inspections, and building codes to construct a sizable operation. As alternative fuels gain momentum, the same restrictions will most likely curtail the development of ethanol/methanol plants and hydrogen fuel cells. We’ve already been pointing out the difficulties being faced for the construction of windmill farms and hydroelectric dams. Any type of land development of the necessary size to make a difference in America will face similar opposition.
The outcry of the people to be funded and facilitated will continue to take its toll, creating bigger government and less local controls. Fear of liability claims causes paralysis on local government officials, especially those who operate in a volunteer capacity. They attempt to shift responsibility upward. Individual rights will be squashed, and many more issues will be resolved by the enactment of groups and councils, rather than sovereign citizens. It is our belief that only by recognizing and respecting rights of soverign citizenship and by passing legislation to seriously curtail frivolous lawsuits can these trends be slowed. If the public continues making demands with concern to legal affairs and greater regulatory control, they will get just what they are asking for??and perhaps much more.
Tom Clouser is a 38 year old farmer in Pennsylvania. In addition to farming, he and his father publish a monthly 16-page newspaper called “Trees ‘n’ Turf”, which targets subjects of interest to those in land use industries and activities. View their website at http://www.clouserfarm.net