Your Individual and Constitutional Rights are Merely a Facade Based on a False Religious Ideal.
The Government giveth and taketh away, not God.
Around the 1890s, a prominent Virginia Supreme court justice Westell Willoughby wrote, “There are in the individual no so-called innate or ‘natural rights,’ that is, such rights as exist independently of the State and beyond its control. In so far as the individual has claims upon his fellows to a non-interference upon their part with the free exercise of certain outward acts, such claims have no legal force except as recognized and enforced by the political power.”
Case Law that supports Willoughby thoughts
This thinking, I would say, has subconsciously had a big influence on the political, judicial, and public sphere during this time period. The variable change of what you can or can not do is demonstrated widely from the end of the civil war and the new deal. We see this influence in cases like Lochner v New York, the slaughterhouse case, and many more. Take Lochner v. New York (1905) was a supreme court case where Joesph Lochner was indicted for violating a New York law that outlaws from a baker to go over the 60 workweeks (Bakeshop Act) because he let an employee do so. The supreme court decided on April 17, 1905, in Lochner’s favor, deciding that “The general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and this includes the right to purchase and sell labor” Lochner v. New York (1905) even though the law is based on health There “is no reasonable ground, on the score of health, for interfering with the liberty of the person or the right of free contract,” Lochner v. New York (1905). In this case, the state originally enacted a law that did not allow a class of persons, i.e., bakers, to work a certain amount of hours during the workweek. This was an act called the baker’s act, and this act was a restriction of the “right to contract” this law to that right away. Still, shortly after, the case was sent to the supreme court and then struck down, so then the government back gave that right. In both of these situations, the state’s action says what you can or could not do.
The Lochner case had to do with state action and how the New York government violated the individual’s right to constitutional liberty. Furthermore, the right to contract isn’t just limited to being barred by direct state action, in theory, even though the bill of rights or the constitutional as we know it says nothing about any limits of the right to contract between individual private actors, because a contract is a private agreement amongst two parties. Even though this is true, but that doesn’t mean that the contract isn’t controlled by indirect government action and the constitution. Even though contracts are created between two private parties, they are enforced in the courts, thus makes them subjected to the constitution because the courts are state actors and are bound by that document. The right to contract isn’t a right vis-a-vis but only a curtailment of government power to interfere with the said right.
Furthermore, in the slaughterhouse cases and The Civil rights Cases (The United States v. Stanley), the court reviewed the application of the 13th and 14th Amendments. The Slaughterhouse Cases was one of the first influential cases that when regulation of butchers was overly nonexistent in Louisiana until the state created a monopoly on stockyards and slaughterhouses through the crescent city slaughterhouse company and gave this company the sole power to create, run and lease slaughterhouses around New Orleans and the surrounding parishes. This caused local butchers to solely lease or rent through the company if they want to work in that field. A collection of butchers know as the butcher’s benevolence association sued the state, claiming it violated the 13th and 14th Amendments. They lost the trial and state supreme courts, then went to the supreme court. The court ruled again in favor of the state, stating that this was not a violation of the 13th or 14th amendments stating that both amendments do not grant a US citizen the right to a chosen occupation and are only really referred to the servitude of African Americans and “the privileges or immunities” of 14th amendment does not trump over the right of the public good.
The court ruled that a person does not have a right to a specific profession and that these amendments did not cause a type of servitude because a state or local government could establish a law that restricted a person’s ability to do something like regulating said profession on the grounds of public health concerns. This illustrates that the concept of a right is again only base on the conscious of the government or the distressed conscious of the collect (concerns of public safety, health, etc.) versus an individual’s perceived right of something solely granted because of the liberty interest of the said person in these two amendments (at least in this time period).
The Civil Rights Cases (United States v Stanley) also examined this liberty or rights of these amendments. in the case, The defense was charged with violating the civil rights act of 1873 because, as a hotel owner, he refused to sell hotel rooms to African Americans, the case was brought up to the supreme course, and the court ruled in favor of the defense because the court decided that the 13th and the 14th amendment only banned discrimination from law created by the state or state actors and not private actors. They stated that congress could not regulate private discrimination, only that of the government. A person could only be sued for this private wrongdoing and not be punished criminally. They also ruled that the 14th amendment barres Congress from enacting laws that ban private discrimination.
I feel that these cases and many others have heavily influenced the post-civil war era mindset on the regulation and belief of rights; it also seems that really only state actors wanted to curtail rights versus individual citizens, which I find interesting, but this makes sense especially when a state deals with hardships like the ever-changing political waves of thoughts, that change too rapidly as it did during this era of American life. Furthermore, to touch on Westell Willoughby’s thoughts on innate rights in itself. Personally, I agree with Westell Willoughby that there are no innate rights or natural rights, at least in practicality. In theory, we have “rights” as we can do what we want or the freedom to have or be something, rather the state says so or not, but in the practical world, we only can do or not do if the state or country allows.
We are not innately free because of God.
When a person says we have innate rights, I feel they really mean we have free will as mortal beings. Still, free will isn’t in itself a right, but more of the ability to do something or not to do something, not an individual right that is a justifiable reason to do something that is justifiable to every person. Furthermore, when a person believes that there are innate rights, they believe those so-called rights emanate from a higher source, i.e., God or an unmovable mover. This would also not be true. For the sake of argument, let us take the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible, or actually, any deity (modern or ancient), has never given us innate or natural rights but instead commands. These commands only grant pseudo rights, indirect rights, and not rights themselves. Take the ten commandments; the commandment of “Thou should not murder” indirectly gives me the right not to be unreasonably killed. But this doesn’t mean I have inherently the right to live without consequence. Now take another commandment, “Thou shall not steal” this commandment breeds the pseudo right of individual property and the pseudo right to be free of unreasonable search or seizure but not the right itself but merely an indirect effect of said commandments.
So I feel the only rights we have come from our rulers or the governing structure, and not some innate creator who has given us rights for merely being alive or born to a certain type of animal species. The pets we own also have rights just like every other animal in America but again only because the government says so. I think every living animal should have the right not to be harmed because we should not live in such a cruel world, but neither us nor the animals of nature have any innate rights to anything for merely being alive, but only because of the state.
Rights are a must for a free society.
To clarify, I personally believe very liberally in rights. People should live with a good amount of freedom to abortions rights, healthcare, freedom to contract, and so on. Still, I merely illustrate the falsity of the conservative concept of an individual's innate God-given rights. Still, we merely have evolved to understand that life is complex and in need of individual rights that The government shouldn't infringe unless necessary.
In conclusion, Willoughby’s thoughts, I feel, is a great explanation of America’s consciousness of rights from post-civil war to the great new deal, which has created an interesting view of the individual and their place in American society and the relationship of the said individual between them and the government. Personally, I feel that we need to have more people in modern American society who hold his beliefs on rights. A society where the citizenry truly understands their place and their rights in the country they live and work in would greatly solve the rights disputes we have in the 21st century. I also feel we need to teach heavily in school about how we have no innate right to anything but merely pseudo rights to commandments or government.