Tag Archives: Bill of Rights

A Widespread Misunderstanding

A recent comment posted to this blog demonstrates a widespread–and pernicious–misunderstanding of the role of the U.S. Constitution. The commenter demanded to know where there was any reference to healthcare in the constitution.

The answer, of course, is that no such reference exists–just as there’s no reference to, say, smoking. Or marriage. Or the right to drive a car. Or the internet.

The constitution does not grant us rights. It limits the government’s right to infringe on those rights. The founders believed that we have certain “inalienable” rights by virtue of being human (hence “human rights”). Some believed those rights were “endowed by the Creator.” But Creator or no, those human rights preceded governments and their laws; the Bill of Rights was intended to constrain government from ignoring or invading them.

The bottom line is that government can pass laws and create programs that the legislature believes will advance the general welfare, so long as those laws and programs do not run afoul of the limits imposed by the document itself, or by the Bill of Rights. We are all free to disagree about the wisdom of government’s policy choices; we are equally free to debate whether, in close cases, government has crossed the lines established by the constitution.

But when we look to the language of our constituent documents for permission–when we view government as the source of our rights–we betray a fundamental misconception of the role of government and law in these United States.