Property rights are a key to freedom

October 12, 2003|by George Michazel, Big Pool

To the editor:

Those who are pushing for the big changes in our county land use and who support the Comprehensive Rezoning of Washington County seem to have little regard for the importance of the property rights of other citizens.

Last month's meeting at the Community College revealed that quite a few citizens still believe in these important principles. Private property rights are fundamental to American society.

It was the English moral philosopher John Locke who proposed the idea that the three fundamental rights that governments were bound to protect were life, liberty and property.


The founders of America were keenly aware of this concept of government. Thomas Jefferson, in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, included this key idea in the early part of his document when he wrote, men were "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and property."

It is the duty of government, he said, to secure these rights. He changed the final draft to read "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to be more poetic in his language and to give his document broader appeal. Nevertheless, the principle of property was well understood.

Furthermore, the idea of property is fundamental in the Judeo-Christian world. The Ten Commandments include the 8th commandment, which states, "You shall not steal." Property rights were to be respected. The Law of Moses later goes on to affirm that no one was to remove the 'ancient landmarks.' These landmarks were property boundary dividers. Moving your neighbor's landmark was the same as stealing. In fact, in the Jewish nation, if a man became poor and lost his property, it was returned to him or to his heirs during the Year of Jubilee. In other words, land was fundamental to a family's security.

When King John tried to give away the land of the people of England to the Pope, a crucial meeting ensued that was held at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Out of that meeting came a document called the Magna Carta, which established once and for all that property rights were something no king could abridge.

During the 20th Century, the Soviet Union held sway over a very large land mass. In the Soviet Union, property was owned and controlled by the State. The reason there was no freedom of religion, freedom of speech or freedom of the press in the Soviet Union was because property rights were denied. A lesson of history is that without property rights, all other freedoms are undermined.

The driving force behind the American free enterprise system is private property. Property rights provide the incentive for individuals to be productive and creative. They foster economic growth. Without them, citizens become wards of the state.

Today, we should be very cautious when property rights are being undermined for any reason, no matter how good the cause may appear on the surface. It seems very questionable that a relative handful of people in our county can draw lines on maps that have the net effect of abridging the property rights of many.

The current plan is rather extreme, expanding limitations of property use by a factor in some cases of 10, 20 or even 30 times more restrictive than current usage. It appears that some will benefit greatly as housing is channeled into a narrow zone, potentially creating a housing shortage, and probably driving up equity and property values for some, while others in our county who own 10, 15, 20 or even 25 acres of land will not be able to sell even one small lot. How is such a plan just?

Some believe that government management of land is to be preferred over the rights of individual citizens. Apparently, they have no problem with the view that taking away the property rights of others for their own narrow view of the "common good" is no big deal.

But some of us believe that America's greatness is not dependent on increasing the power of government in our lives but in limiting it to its God-given duty of protecting life, liberty and property for all.

George Michazel, Big Pool

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