Before you read Jim Waters’ latest, please Google around for statistics about second-hand smoke.
We’ll spare the commentary this week in exchange for reader analysis.
Let’s bag Big Brother, smoke out rights stealers and stay fat and happy
By Jim Waters
I wonder what some local politicians have put in their pipes and smoked.
I nearly drove off the road the other day when I heard Brian Nash, Bowling Green city commissioner, say during a radio newscast that the health benefits reaped by citizens from a proposed smoking ban in his city “outweigh” the Constitution’s personal-property rights.
“I agree that personal property rights, in many cases, are paramount,” Nash said. “I think in this particular case – and I don’t want to be painted into a corner, so – in this particular case, I believe that the health consequences, uh, outweigh that.”
Fortunately, a majority of his fellow commissioners disagreed and squashed the proposed ban.
For populists – like Nash – and the health nannies egging them on (many supported by taxpayer-funded grants), the Constitution with its protection of personal property rights presents an inconvenience.
In fact, with so many different agendas competing for politicians’ support, the Constitution is inconvenient more often than convenient.
That’s a good thing.
It’s good the constitutionally guaranteed rights of private property owners are inconvenient for Louisville Metro Council member Dan Johnson as he tries to impose a prohibition of trans fats in certain foods prepared in his city’s restaurants.
It’s good the constitutionally guaranteed rights of private property owners are not convenient for Johnson’s fellow councilman, Jim King, in his attempt to use government edicts to prohibit storeowners from using traditional plastic bags.
I’m not saying smoking and trans fats are good for your health, or that plastic bags are better for the environment’s health. But they are legal.
If Nash can somehow get smoking declared illegal – anywhere and everywhere – then property owners should comply. If King and Johnson can get trans fats and plastic bags declared illegal, that’s a different story.
Government, propped up by our tax dollars, must quit denying property owners the right to allow legal activity – and use legal products – in their businesses – even if the majority doesn’t agree.
If we lived in a true rule-by-majority democracy – like in ancient Greece – the majority’s wishes would trample individual rights every time. Any and all civil-rights legislation protecting minorities would have come to rest alongside ancient Greek government models on the ash heap of history. Every minority group or individual would fear the majority.
But we have been given a constitutional republic, a representative form of government created primarily to control the majority and protect individual rights, including those of restaurant owners, grocers and retailers.
It’s true the Constitution does not specifically say, “Thou shalt not trample on personal property rights of restaurant, bar and grocery-store owners.” But not all personal rights – including property rights – could be enumerated in the document.
The framers were so concerned that this not be interpreted as giving carte blanche to assault Americans’ individual liberties that they added the Ninth Amendment, which covers even unlisted rights held in high esteem by the founders and consistently upheld by the Supreme Court.
In “Federalist #54,” founder James Madison declared: “Government is instituted no less for the protection of the property than of the persons of individuals.”
Some reason that banning smoking, trans fat and plastic bans doesn’t make pulp out of individual rights. They simply restrict unwelcome activity.
There’s no difference, said former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice William Graves.
“Use is an essential attribute of ownership,” Graves said in a ruling a couple of years ago about Lexington’s smoking ban, which he called “arbitrary” and “oppressive.”
The “we-know-better-than-you” government types creeping into our lives from every corner of this commonwealth seem emboldened and want to intrude on our most cherished rights. It needs to stop.
We have a stalwart Constitution that works. Nash, King, Johnson and hundreds of other local officials “solemnly” swore to “support” that document at during swearing-in ceremonies. They should start doing it.
Enthusiastically. All of the time.
– Jim Waters is the director of policy and communications for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.