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Professor Joe Barnhart on "Individual's Rights"
Professor Joe Barnhart, University of North Texas, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, will be our speaker for the annual Public Meeting on February 4th. At our meeting, he will address the topic, "An Honest Look at Separation of Church and State in the U.S.: Its History, Consequences and Benefits."

His views on "Individuals' Rights" below ...

Religion and the Proper Role of the State

Joe Barnhart, Professor of Philosophy and Religion Studies, University of North Texas

Without basic security of person and personal property, all our other values stand in danger of being lost. The person as an individual is the focus and recipient of security. Individuals develop as moral agents only to the degree they are free to choose from alternatives. This entails protecting the rights of all other individuals to choose as free moral agents. Ideas and beliefs are not guaranteed protection from criticism. Rather, each individual is guaranteed protection to think and believe the ideas and beliefs that accord with his or her own conscience and to examine ideas with which he or she might not agree.

Respect for private property is a basic ingredient of human dignity. Freedom of speech develops best as an extension of private property. For example, if Mahmud chooses to hear his neighbor’s ideas, he may invite his neighbor onto his property to present those ideas. By protecting private property, the police protect freedom of speech. By the same token, if Mahmud does not wish to hear his neighbor’s ideas, his neighbor may not speak those ideas while on Mahmud’s property unless he is invited to do so. The state’s proper role is to protect person and private property from intruders, invaders, and thieves.

When the state attempts to do more than protect person and property, it increases the probabilities of doing more harm than good. The state’s role is not to promote righteousness but the freedom of individuals to pursue the good life that accords with the dictates of their own consciences. Because individuals are finite and come from different backgrounds, they will likely embrace some beliefs different from their neighbors’ beliefs. When an elected representative attempts to represent one group’s ideology by giving it favored treatment and/or state money, he or she misrepresents those who do not receive favored treatment or state money. The government is properly neutral toward religions and ideologies. Any group attempting to force or impose its ideology or religion on the citizens is violating basic human dignity and human rights.

Posted by pking
Jan. 04, 2007