Archived column by Lee Wrights reposted recently at Liberty for All and suggested for IPR by the author:
“The desire to rule is the mother of heresies.”
– St. John Chrysostom
Rules can be useful tools and tricky devices. They can be written and formed and debated and passed and enforced. They become creations of committees, peopled by those who wish to control the unruly masses. Unfortunately, most rules are conceived and born from the not-so-holy union of Good Intentions and Bad Solutions.
Actually, the rules are rather simple. You don’t take things that do not belong to you. You don’t harm others. You do not use force or violence to impose your will upon others; and yet, you have the right to defend yourself. In short, the definition of liberty. These are things we all teach our children. Why? Because they are the most important “life lessons” we can give them as loving parents. These rules are important and the very foundation of the great nation we, as Americans, presently occupy. It is proper our children learn these “good” rules early in their lives.
And then, there are the bad rules…
Case in point. A couple of months ago a group of students in Washington, DC broke out in a spontaneous singing of the Star Spangled Banner as they stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Students singing the national anthem on the steps of one of the nation’s treasured monuments. A picture perfect postcard of pride and patriotism if there ever was one. Well, it would have been except for the United States Park Police trying to silence the students because they were breaking a “rule.”
According to NBC Washington, the students were told they “…were in violation of federal law and their impromptu performance constituted a demonstration in an area that must remain ‘completely content neutral.’” Park police tried to stop the students from singing. Not only did the students not stop singing, but other memorial visitors joined in to help the young people finish our national anthem. Afterwards, Sgt. David Schlosser of the US Park Police stated, “The area they were standing in and singing is an area that is restricted for this type of activity.”
This type of activity? Have we outlawed national pride in our young people? Did some committee repeal the Constitution? Have the US Park Police ever heard of the First Amendment? What in the world does “content neutral” even mean? Is this really the kind of lesson we want our children to learn? Has society lost its collective mind? This isn’t just wrong, it is insane.
Now I know there are those of you out there who think this is no big deal. That the children should just mind their manners and do as they’re told. There are even those who will admit the stupidity of a rule barring such “demonstrations,” and yet, they still say the students should have complied with the officers’ instructions to stop singing. They say the rules should be changed through the legal system, but until they are we all must comply.
These people fail to realize, or just plain forget, you can’t make rules that deprive others of their rights. Any law that violates a person’s individual rights is an illegal law and holds no force save that of those who desire its enforcement. To surrender to this train of thought is to cast oneself into despotism. Any king can rule as long as his subjects willingly submit to his authority.
So, do we just blindly obey illegal and un-Constitutional rules or do we violate the law and become criminals in the eyes of society? Do we teach our young people that it is more important to obey authority than it is to exercise the rights that are their birthright? Do we advise them to always bow down to the lawmakers and just do as they’re told? Sounds more like a rule better suited to a group of slaves than a nation of free individuals.
I know, I know… there are good reasons for these rules. Yes, there are always “legitimate” reasons for rules. Isn’t that the claim of every tyrant throughout history? Every law begins when someone in position of authority decides he/she has a “good idea” that magically transforms itself into “legitimate reason.” Everything from dictatorships to monarchies are built upon this foundation called Legitimate Reason.
Wasn’t there legitimate reasons for “rules” that said women could not vote, could not own property, could be beaten by their husbands as long as the rod was no bigger around than their thumb? Rules that restrict the free speech of Americans, even children, are wrong, un-Constitutional and unenforceable. This is the lesson I want my children to learn. This is a rule our nation’s young people should be taught by those sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution.
Remember, there used to be a rule that black people were only counted as 3/5 of a person; and by the way, you were permitted to own as many of them as you could afford. Rules? To paraphrase slightly the old saying, some rules are made to be broken. Especially when they are stupid and wrong.
As for the students… well done! Question authority.
“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.”
– Albert Einstein
Originally published at Liberty For All August 16, 2010.
R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is currently pondering a run for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.