Rights and Responsibilities

Years ago while working as a cashier at a convenience store in Denver, I found wisdom printed inside a carton of cigarettes.

Salem brand had apparently figured out the moral war against smoking was quickly gaining steam.  In an effort to inspire consumers, they had printed a detailed commentary inside the carton packaging.  The first line read:

Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Smoker

followed by a list of what rights I had and what responsibilities I should embrace.

I can’t remember the rest, though I imagine refraining from  blowing smoke in a loudly harassing non-smoker’s face was not on the responsibilities’ list, though it should have been.  I have been frequently tempted….


I was barely 18 then – I had not yet been exposed to the concept:

Do what you will – Harm None.

Though my education in that would soon follow.


Our Founding Fathers must have been pretty familiar with both these concepts.   The Bill of Rights reads as a long list of state and individual rights.

Our legal system has grown to include a long list of punishments when we forget our responsibilities.

Seems giving people a lot of rights necessitates in needing a ‘cautioning hand’ to keep them from abusing those rights.


Let’s look in on one of the latest battles around the First Amendment – Snyder vs. Phelps .  Seems rights of religion, speech and assembly are being supported without too many hard looks at responsibility.

Some supporters of Phelps really don’t like how he and his followers choose to exercise their rights – protesting and picketing military funerals to spread their message that God hates gays and our government’s policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is leading this country to wrack and ruin.

Yet they state not siding with him would endanger First Amendment rights for all.

Really?   Let’s revisit the wording of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Hmm..did you see the words “peaceably” and “petition the Government”?

A whole sentence about rights peppered with a few words regarding responsibilities.

Since I’m not an attorney, the message is pretty clear – I can start or exercise any religion I choose and I’m free to talk about it or write about it.  I’m also allowed to assemble peacefully with others and if I don’t like something, I’m free to petition my Government to get it changed.

What astounds me is the focus on Mr. Phelps’ rights and the equally blind-eye turned towards his responsibilities.

What’s ‘peaceful’ and ‘petitioning the Government’ about picketing individuals’ funerals?

Common sense must be led through multiple twists and turns and fattened up with a whole truckload of verbiage to mount any kind of First Amendment defense for the Phelps side.


Yes, we have rights – boatloads of them.   We also have responsibilities.   Those who forsake their responsibilities, to my mind, forsake their rights at the same time.

Hand-in-hand they go.  As they were meant to.

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