Thursday, April 28, 2005

Are you aware the Bill of Rights doesn’t protect you against other people?

The Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, called the Bill of Rights, defines the relationship between citizens and the government. It sets out some things the Federal Government can’t prohibit (like speech), and defines some things the Federal Government can’t do (like establish an official religion). But saying what the government can or can’t do is different than saying what people can or can’t do.

While the Bill of Rights does define the relationship between citizens and the government, it doesn’t define the relationship between citizens and other citizens. For example, while the Bill of Rights prevents the Federal Government from unduly limiting a citizen’s right to speak, it doesn’t prevent another citizen from limiting a fellow citizen’s right to speak. So, a restaurant can kick you out for discussing a topic the management doesn’t approve of, even though the police would have no power to prevent the discussion in the public space outside. The right of free speech controls what the policeman can do, not the restaurant owner.

So, what about all these civil rights laws? One may ask. They certainly effect the relationship between citizens, and definitely appear to derive from equal protection rights and other aspects the Amendments to the Constitution. Actually, those laws don’t draw their authority from the Amendments to the Constitution at all. They’re based on the 8th Article of the Constitution proper; the provision which grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

What does civil rights have to do with interstate commerce?

The libertarians have been asking that one for years…


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