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The Source of Our Liberty

declaration of independenceHaving set the stage for what I want to say, I want to remind you of these words from the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…"

To me these words are sacred. They are as much scripture as the words in any holy book. So, I wish to explain my understanding of these words and why I hold them sacred.

First of all, as these words suggest, I believe that the source of liberty is God. I believe that God wants ALL PEOPLE (updating the language to modern times) to be free. When I say all people, I mean every human being of every age, sex, race, religion and nationality. However, in order for that to happen, there must be a boundary to freedom. I can't do whatever I want at somebody else's expense, because my freedom must end where your freedom begins. In other words, I have the right to control my own life, but I do not have the right to control the life of anyone else.

Unalienable Rights

This is why the concept of unalienable rights is essential to an understanding of liberty. The word unalienable means that it is a right that cannot be made alien to you. It is a right you possess by the very fact that you are alive. It is yours because God gave it to you and no one has the moral right to deprive you of it, because if they do, they are depriving you of your God-given liberty. This does not mean that other people may not try to take some of your rights away from you; it simply means they have no moral right to do so.

This means that by definition, unalienable rights must be both individual and universal at the same time. They are inherently part of each individual person, and they are universally part of every individual person. This does not mean that the rights are collective. There are no "group rights," because rights cannot be "special."

If rights are reserved only for certain groups, then they are privileges. Privileges are things that are afforded to some people, but not to others. From a spiritual perspective, if our unalienable rights were only available to us because we are of the "right" race, sex, religion or country, then God would be a "respecter of persons." Unlike human beings, God is "no respecter of persons," so what he grants to ONE, he grants to ALL.

What Are Our Unalienable Rights?

The Declaration of Independence states that AMONG our rights are the rights to life, liberty and "the pursuit of happiness." I emphasize the word among to indicate that the list given here is not exhaustive. Also, because it was well understood at the time that the right to "pursue happiness" was the right to labor honestly to improve our life and enjoy the fruits of those honest labors, I will substitute the "pursuit of happiness" with the word property. This is in harmony with the fact that most state constitutions at the time defined our rights as the right of life, liberty and property.

Let's examine each of these unalienable rights briefly.

mother-father-childLife: I believe that all life, not just human life, comes from God. This means life is an expression of the Divine, meaning God is Life. This means that life is sacred. The right to be allowed to live is the most basic and overarching of all rights, and it is from the right to life that the other two major rights emerge.

Liberty: I also believe that God granted mankind free will. This means that we get to chose how we will express the life God grants us. Liberty is the opportunity for each of us to create, to pour the life energy God is granting us into whatever constructive activities we desire. We are free to invent, discover, build, transform and express our life through art, science or service in any way we desire. We are also free to choose those with whom we will associate and form voluntary and mutually beneficial agreements (or contracts) with them. Liberty is what makes us God's children, because through liberty God grants us the ability to become co-creators with Him in forming this world.

Property: As I exercise my creative power of liberty, I create property. Property is that into which I have poured my life and liberty to create. Through my constructive activities I put my life energy into my creations, which gives me the right to exercise my liberty in how, when and where I will utilize my creations. The right of property is also inherently necessary for life, as I cannot sustain my life without food, clothing, shelter, water and air. Also, I cannot have happiness if I do not have the right to utilize and enjoy what I have labored to create.

There are a few clarifications I wish to make about the concept of property. First, I cannot legitimately own what I have not created, unless I freely exchange what I have created for something another person has created in a mutually agreeable and beneficial exchange. Secondly, some things are God's property and are to remain freely available to all people. These include water, air and access to land (or a place to live). I cannot deny a person these basic things or I am denying them the right to live, as a person must have air, water and a place to live to sustain the right of life.

Understanding Trespass or Crime

pick pocketOnce we understand the unalienable rights to life, liberty and property and that these rights are God-given gifts to each individual, we understand the basis of crime, because crime is a trespass against the unalienable rights of another individual. In fact, this was the original, constitutional definition of crime.

The original law dictionary of the United States defined crime like this: "a deliberate and willful trespass against the life, liberty or property of another, in which there is a demonstrable loss of life, liberty or property." In other words, for something to be a crime, there must be a victim. The victim of a crime suffers a trespass against their unalienable rights, losing an aspect of their life, liberty or property. Furthermore, this loss can be objectively demonstrated.

Not only must the loss be proven or objectively demonstrated, it must also be proven that the loss was due to the "deliberate and willful" actions of another. If I accidently or unintentionally cause a loss, it is not a crime. This does not mean that the person who suffered the loss due to negligence or neglect on the part of another cannot seek recompense; it merely means that the case falls under CIVIL law, not CRIMINAL law. Civil law is law that is designed to keep the peace by arbitrating disagreements between citizens where no crime has been committed.

Crime and "Sin"

There is a strong relationship between the idea of crime and the idea of sin. However, sin has a context that goes beyond the scope of crime.  Sin has been defined as "falling short" or "missing the mark," meaning that we fall short of God's perfection. So, not everything that one might consider a sin fits the definition of crime. We might consider it a sin (that is less than perfect behavior) to get drunk or gamble away my savings or overeat until I become obese, but none of these things are crimes because I have not trespassed against another.  On the other hand, if I get drunk, drive a car and get into an accident where others are injured or killed, that is a crime.

Having clarified that, let's re-examine each of the rights we listed earlier and see how each right is related to this definition of crime. You will see that all of these crimes can also be considered sins.

Life. Murder is an obvious trespass against the right to life, but anything that causes damage or injury to a person's body is also a trespass against life. Thus, assaulting another person and causing demonstrable, physical injury to their body is also a crime, as is deliberately doing something to cause them to become sick by the administration of anything harmful to life.

Liberty. To attempt to control the constructive choices of another person by violence or threats of violence is also a crime. This means that enslaving another person, kidnapping someone or forcing them to engage in activities they have not voluntarily and willingly consented to, such as sexual activities, is a trespass against their liberty. So, besides slavery, crimes against liberty include kidnap, rape, sexually molesting children, and forcing another person to do something under threat of violent punishment if they do not comply. This also includes forcing people into involuntary associations (such as marriage or a church) and contracts (such as business deals) under threat of punishment if they do not comply.

Property. As previously explained, when a person engages in honest work and acquires property or possessions as a result of that honest work they have a right to decide how that property is to be used. To steal, vandalize or destroy the property of another is a trespass against them. If you have ever been robbed or had something you own deliberately destroyed by the actions of others, you know how violated this makes you feel.

Government and Force

police-arrestThe Founding Fathers of our country understood something that many people in modern society seem to have forgotten or are unable to see. The power to govern is the power to utilize force, even deadly force, in order to compel obedience. Government is not social agreement, where people get together and voluntarily decide to abide by certain rules, as happens in a church or club. Whatever laws a government enacts will be enforced by people who are authorized to take away the life, liberty and property of others.

In other words, if you break one of the government’s laws, you won't get a friendly person coming to you and asking you to please comply with it for the good of society. What you will get is an armed officer who will demand your compliance and if you resist you may be assaulted, restrained or even killed for failing to comply. There are many videos online showing people being assaulted or shot by police seeking to enforce even minor laws, which demonstrates the truth of this statement.

It’s extremely important to understand that government is not the same as leadership. A good leader inspires, but does not compel, people to join a cause and contribute their efforts to achieving it. In contrast, government is based on the use of violent (and often deadly) force. Government compels obedience under the threat of taking life (deadly force or the death penalty), liberty (arresting someone and putting them in jail) and property (taxes, fines and confiscation of property). 

When I came to clearly understand this, it dramatically altered my own political views. I had to consider this question very carefully, "When are we morally justified in using force to deprive another person of life, liberty and property?" To put this even more bluntly, under what conditions would you feel morally justified in threatening to shoot (and even killing) another human being to compel their obedience to a law?" This is where I had to bring my spiritual beliefs into the picture.

So, before I give you the answers I came up with to this question, I would like to explain the spiritual beliefs on which my answer is based. This is the topic for the next article in this series. Use the links below to go to the next pages:

Part Two: Morality and the Common Law

Part Three: America is a Republic, Not a Democracy


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