A task for the Model Citizen badge asks scouts to identify what they believe are the core rights and responsibilities that come with U.S. citizenship.
“Rights” and “responsibilities” are extraordinary words with a lot of heft, aren’t they? I had to sit with those words for a bit so I could at least define them for myself. I define a “right” is something we are free to do, whereas a “responsibility” is something we ought to do.
And with this week’s important mid-term elections, voting is at the top of my list for both of those words. So (soapbox moment), please vote. All Big Scouts should take seriously the responsibility of exercising their right to vote.
Beyond that, let’s agree that this one blog post is thoroughly insufficient for a scholarly consideration of rights and responsibilities. Can’t be done. All we can do here is scratch the surface and open it up for some thoughtful comment. And Model Citizenship is more than a recitation of rights and responsibilities; it’s putting words into action, isn’t it?
But here’s my kick-off list and conversation starter; everyone’s invited to comment on and add to it.
Our Rights & Responsibilities
Hard to imagine a list that doesn’t first look at the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, isn’t it? If you’re interested in brushing up on the actual language, it’s all right here: http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html. It’s a really good read.
Wise and thoughtful people have not always agreed about the meaning of these words. We have historically seen disagreement at our highest levels of government on a number of rights. For instance, the Second Amendment reads , “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.” Does that mean we all have the right to bear arms, or were the authors referring specifically and only to citizens involved in a well-regulated Militia?
Scholars and jurists have also disagreed over whether the Constitution guarantees a right to privacy. This question has become increasingly important for two key reasons: first, we find ourselves on the Internet for large parts of our day, where personal information has a way of becoming very public; second, as we find ourselves needing to be more vigilant in the face of potential terrorist threats. The Patriot Act, for instance, is seen by many (myself included), as an invasion of privacy and civil rights.
This ongoing debate points to the greater question: should the Constitution be read as something that’s set in stone? Or should it be considered a “living document” that is flexible and responsive to the many changes we’ve seen in our short 200+ years as a nation? It’s one of the great debates we get to have, isn’t it?
Hey Jean — quit it with the civics stuff and history stuff,
and just get to your list, ok?
But I didn’t get to the 14th amendment!* Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry!
Ok, here it is:
We have the right to:
- Say what we want (except yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, see debate above)
- Choose and practice any faith to which we are drawn
- Gather in small or large numbers (most recently evidenced by Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity)
- A trial by a jury of our peers in which we are innocent until proven guilty
Those are rights protected by law (along with bearing arms). Personally, I believe we should also have a couple of other rights, which to one extent or another, have been legislated:
- The right to affordable, quality healthcare
- The right to a quality public education
Imho, these are fundamental to a successful and civilized society; they make sound sense economically, and they’re the right friggin’ thing to do. None of us — not a one — are entirely happy with health care and education in the U.S. today, and that’s about the legislation and application of those laws in the real world. But as far as rights go, these are core for me.
FYI, I also lean (heavily) towards the right to privacy.
Responsibilities are where things get very cool. Some mirror our rights; for instance, we have a responsibility to:
- Speak our minds (respectfully, I’d add), as individuals or in groups
- Serve on a jury when called
But they go deeper, too, don’t they? As good neighbors and citizens, we also have a responsibility to play nicely in a very large, shared sandbox. We have the responsibility to:
- Be considerate of others’ beliefs, even when they differ from our own
- Help others who are less fortunate than us
- Become educated in issues by seeking out many sources of information
- Be a mindful steward of the planet’s natural resources
- Obey the law and pay our taxes
- Be an active voice for the change we want to see (including laws or policy we’d like to see changed).
Without getting all confessional, I haven’t always lived up to my responsibilities, at all. But changing that is one of the points of being a better scout, isn’t it?
So that’s the kick-off list, and it’s hardly complete, so chime in!
* The 14th Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott decision, constitutionally abolished slavery and guarantees due process under the law. It’s been central to key arguments before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education. But it has had an unintended consequence as well. The courts have traditionally interpreted the word “person” to apply to “corporations” (Jean says: BOO!), and the concept of “corporate personhood” is largely responsible for giving corporations the rights of U.S. citizens without the responsibilities, imho. Latest case in point: the Citizen’s United decision. Because corporations have the rights of citizens, they also have the right to free speech. And that, my friends, is why you’ve been bombarded with political advertising in the last few weeks, funded by special interest money that gets to remain anonymous. Jean says “Double BOO!”