The Constitution of the US guarantees citizens, and those living here legally, a series of rights. We have the right to free speech, the right to practice a religion, the right to protest against the government, just to name a few. I truly value these rights, and I’ve been to places where citizens do not have some of these rights. Americans tend to fiercely value their freedom, especially individual freedom and rights. We passionately defend our rights and protest when we feel they are threatened. Yet, even as we staunchly defend certain rights and freedoms, we simultaneously ignore others.
For example, certain cities (DC) have implemented a $0.05 tax on all plastic bags to reduce consumption of plastic bags because far too often the bags clog rivers and affect marine life. Some of the residents reacted with anger to policy because it “infringed on their rights.” My question is your right to what exactly? Pollute the world? Nope. The Constitution does not give us the right to pollute our rivers and destroy our environment.
Another example of this contradiction is the right to bear arms versus a right to healthcare. We do not conceptualize access to healthcare as a right. You get healthcare in the US when you can pay for it. But we have the right to carry weapons that can end life, and in some states, have the right to defend ourselves against any perceived threat (“Stand Your Ground” laws). Americans staunchly defend their right to take life, but do not think that the victim has a right to save it.
Education provides another example. Yes, we have free and compulsory primary and secondary education in the US, but public schools are increasingly being defunded and privatized. Given this evidence? Do we really value a right to education?
During my time in Hong Kong, I met people from a variety of countries who frequently asked me about this contradiction. People questioned me about how Americans defend their 2nd amendment rights while also protesting the requirement of the Affordable Care Act to having health insurance.
This contradiction also confuses me. How can we proudly proclaim “liberty and justice for all,” but not equally defend a right to healthcare, affordable and safe housing, quality public education, and a living wage?
So yes, I value the rights given to me by the Bill of Rights, but I do not believe that human rights stop there. People have a right to healthcare and public education and a living wage, and I will defend, protest and speak out for these rights as much as I defend my right to openly practice my religion.