A MADPRIEST QUESTION

Why is freedom of speech enshrined in the US constitution but not the pursuit of happiness? I would have thought that the desire for freedom of speech comes from the desire to pursue happiness. If the pursuit of happiness was given a legal status to reflect its status in the American psyche the argument against same sex marriage would be very difficult to sustain in the US courts.

Comments

A MADPRIEST QUESTION — 47 Comments

  1. Hmmm…. This is probably worth a short essay. But briefly thus:

    Pursuit of happiness is not a right it is a universal condition. Even in prison people pursue happiness whether they get it or not.

    What our bill of rights sought to do was enshrine in legal standing those elements of restraint by government that contribute to the pursuit. So for instance the rights to assemble, petition and publish are there. Collectively those represent the ‘right of free speech.’ They are there as constraints, that is government cannot stop me from publishing. So, I can presumably pursue happiness. Government cannot decide what churches are available so I can choose the one that makes me happier than others or choose none.

    The logos of the constraints on government is that it should whenever and wherever possible be constrained from interfering with my pursuit of of my life’s goals.

    FWIW
    jimB

  2. I think you may be mistaken as to the desire underlying the constitutional protection of freedom of speech.

    It’s rather like the freedom of the press: It’s not so much to achieve happiness of one’s own so much as to be able to piss off one’s listeners.

  3. Okay, Jim. So why can your legislature interfere with the right of gay people to pursue happiness? Why can’t gay people claim their basic human right to pursue happiness?

  4. Okay, Jim. So why can your legislature interfere with the right of gay people to pursue happiness? Why can’t gay people claim their basic human right to pursue happiness?

  5. Sorry, Paul (A) but that doesn’t wash with me. I derive far too much happiness from saying things to piss off other people for your nicety to be valid.

  6. I think the most obvious reason is that the “pursuit of happiness” is too vague and too broad to really interpret or enforce as a right. You also get into the problem of defining what is or isn’t a valid method of “pursuing happiness.”

    I think it’s also important to note (as I understand it) that the Bill of Rights were primarily about limiting government power and giving the people a method of reeling it in when necessary. Freedom of religion was about making sure that the government couldn’t use the church as a method of controlling its citizens. The freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly were about making sure that people could examine, criticize, and even condemn that government, both as individuals and collectively. I suspect that the “pursuit of happiness” wasn’t included simply because no one saw it as a method for keeping government in check.

    Of course, I also suspect most people figured that all those other rights would guarantee one’s ability to pursue happiness.

  7. The Constitution is a mixed bag. Remember the “right to pursue happiness” is not in it. The States authority to “regulate morals” is in the document.

    The “pursuit of happiness” language is from our “Declaration of Independence” which has no legal standing in Constitutional law. All it did explain why we did not want you English running the place. It did not establish a government.

    Authority interferes with someone’s pursuit of happiness all the time. The real question is: should authority be used in a particular way? Be it restricting access to marriage, prohibiting bad language or prohibiting rape, all are exercises in authority.

    The question of legitimacy is both political and legal. Which is why we are litigating and legislating on issues.

    And there is also a financial issue to marriage. We grant a bunch of tax advantage to ‘families.’ By filing income tax as a married family I get a much better deal than single people do. So, giving lgbt’s access to the “married filing jointly” status on tax form 1040 inter alia, we will reduce the government’s income.

    From a lgbt perspective that is simple justice but from Congress’s viewpoint it is revenue loss. That more than anything probably explains how the “Defense of Marriage Act” got through Congress. A lot of new married people reduces that nice pile of cash we liberals like to spend on social projects (health care) and conservatives like to spend on necessities (bombs and bombers.)

    It is a complex issue we will eventually sort out and I think do it correctly. But it takes us a while. At the moment, England is ahead of much of the States. But we are working on it. Some have access to “civil unions” a very few (Iowans and New Englanders) have access to marriage.

    Eventually we will get it done. I think we will actually get to what I think of as the correct place — everyone can have a “Civil Union” and “marriage” is a religious issue for religious communities to work out.

    There are 300 million of us, a patchwork of 51 constitutions, 51 supreme courts, well over 400 legislatures (State, county, municipal) and over 3000 religions. We just flat take a while to move sometimes. We need to revise the revenue, family law and probate codes of most States and the Federal government, change heaven knows how many other laws and do this with a consensus that leaves us relatively intact. (OK, nothing will please AC-NA but then we plan to export them to England.)

    I actually think it is an unknown Moslem that will get us to finally change. Sooner or later a Moslem woman will sue for a marriage license as a second wife claiming it is a religious issue and that “one man and one woman” establishes Christian marriage. She will win and the changes will sail through. Until then we keep working on it.

    FWIW
    jimB

  8. I accidentally stumbled on a link to a link of a Wingnut site: in the blogroll listing, a headline blared “Public Knowledge: Judge in Prop 8 case is GAY!” (Oh, so case closed then? Quelle Horror!)

    wv, “pubtors”. What I’d like to do sometime in Blightey: be my guide, Crazy Arse? (Just add “u”! ;-p)

  9. RE: “I actually think it is an unknown Moslem that will get us to finally change. Sooner or later a Moslem woman will sue for a marriage license as a second wife claiming it is a religious issue and that “one man and one woman” establishes Christian marriage. She will win and the changes will sail through. Until then we keep working on it.”

    Ya know, I never thought of it that way…and it’s crazy enough that it just might work…

  10. There is supposed to be a balance between federal legal power and the legal power of the individual states. And there were reasons that it was set up that way. It’s not just a US Constitutional thing, so don’t give the Constitution more legal weight that it actually has.

  11. I derive far too much happiness from saying things to piss off other people for your nicety to be valid.

    Or, that just illustrates my point. Of course, you are at somewhat greater risk for defamation charges in GB than in the US, but litigation is riskier there, what with the attorney-fee rule.

    IN any event, I’m glad to see that your pursuit of happiness is uncurbed.

    wv = ratuds
    (evidence of rodent infestation)

  12. What do I know, but the pursuit of happiness was already alluded to (if not enshrined) in the Declaration of Independence (1776). The right to free speech was guaranteed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution in (1791).

    Here in Oz we have ‘no rights’ because we are descended from a bunch of ne’r-do-wells and scammers whose motto was always, “nothing in writing”.

  13. [Apologies if this is double-posted. There’s no telling whether idiot Google finally decided to see the text. Also, this seems to have turned into rather a rant on the documents, but you asked why the difference. And pretty much nobody really understands them, certainly not Americans.]

    Jim has a good take on the matter, and I love the idea of the Muslim woman breaking it all open, but my own litigious-Yank emphasis on the legalisms is a bit different.

    The Declaration, as he says, does not set up a government. It is a call to arms, rather, rallying the natives and the outside world in three sections: a statement of political philosophy, a bill of particulars, and a resolution. The first part, naturally, is where you find all those enduringly famous quotes.

    The Constitution does set up a government, and therefore has to meet different requirements. Its three parts are a formal Preamble outlining the purposes and the authority, a long exposition of the actual structure and powers — and oops, we forget to put specific limitations on its power, so here’s a Bill of Rights. The name is definitely not coincidental; the authors knew where they were coming from. The whole thing is necessarily more legalistic than philosophical.

    The change from Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness to L, L, and Property is often described as showing how the guys got a lot more conservative; I say it’s the difference in the nature of the documents. Which you could say is much the same thing, I guess.

    BTW, four amendments later, we have specific menton of Life, Liberty, or Property, of which we may not be deprived without due process of law — a provision taken right from the Magna Carta with emendation fitted to a republic. Very respectful of tradition, we Americans.

  14. Here in Oz we have ‘no rights’ because we are descended from a bunch of ne’r-do-wells and scammers whose motto was always, “nothing in writing”

    Living in the UK as I do, I can’t help feeling that there are enough negative stereotypes of Australians washing round without us doing it to ourselves as well. In fact, Boaz, this statement very nearly made me weep with frustration.

  15. It’s kind of you to ask, MP. I’m not sure Boaz meant it ironically. And as for life, it’s always shitty. This is why God has blessed us with a sense of irony, I guess.

  16. He probably does. Even so. You get so much crap about Australians in the UK papers. The Telegraph is particularly bad. They would mean a statement like this non-ironically.

    The sun is shining and life is good too – I don’t mean to be downbeat.

    I have had one small win this morning. I have posted before complaining that when I listen to tracks off OCICBW I can’t hear myself think because of my downstairs neighbours, whose TV is continuously on. I have complained to them twice but not at length and it had seemingly no effect. I hate confrontations and was really nervous about speaking to them again. This morning though I had had enough of their racket and gathered all my courage and went down and knocked on their door. They didn’t answer, so I knocked again. And again. Then I yelled “hello” and knocked again. No response. I went outside and banged on their window and shouted “Don’t act like children, answer the door!” No answer. They were HIDING. Two strapping young blokes in their twenties!! I called, “All right I’m writing you a letter,” and I did, and posted it on their door, telling them to keep the noise down. They got the letter and turned their TV right down and are now being quiet as mice.

    It just goes to show, just because you’re terrified of the bastards doesn’t mean they aren’t terrified of you.

  17. negative stereotypes of Australians washing round

    Since when? That must be new. I’ll be careful what I say in future.

  18. I can honestly say I have never had any problems with my Australian readers, not even the lesbian ones. The Americans and Mexicans on the other hand…

  19. Boaz, I reckon I could honestly put together a masters’ thesis in journalism on negative perceptions of Australians in the UK media. I get really fed up with it. It gets particularly bad whenever there is a sporting event on, like the Ashes or the rugby. Sometimes I think it’s because it’s not acceptable to be rude about the Irish any more, so they had to come up with someone new.

  20. I presume you mean the TV show rather than my actual neighbours.

    I don’t know what you’re talking about, “Neighbours” gave the world Kylie, and for that everyone should thank us.

  21. Mexicans ARE Americans. So are Canadians, Hondurans, Argentinians… If on the other hand you mean “United Statesonians and Mexicans”, then say so. :<)

  22. Americans in Europe will often say they are Canadians but no Canadian would ever say they are Americans.

    And the reason the rest of the world call you Americans is because you have always referred to yourselves in the movies etc. as Americans. So don’t blame us for your geographical errors.

    Anyway, Mexicans are Central Americans.

  23. No. Mexicans are North Americans. Central America is traditionally deemed to consist of the nations between Mexico and Colombia

  24. I feel a little proud in this moment. All has not been in vain. There are folks who heard and understood over the last couple of years

    And as much as I know in my heart what Paul and Lois express is the truth, MP also has his point. No one in their right mind in this hemisphere wants to be called an American if they are not actually a United Statesonian. Especially Canadians, Venezuelans and Cubans! Although all for very different reasons.

    And as your only identified Mexican reader, I can probably cause more trouble than the rest combined. I can think of more than one thread that was taken down after I commented.

  25. Your story about the downstairs neighbors and the TV noise is just priceless, Cathy. Thanks for that!

    And I really like your conclusion: “It just goes to show, just because you’re terrified of the bastards doesn’t mean they aren’t terrified of you.”

    I think I’m going to have to nick the whole thing for one of my meditation classes!

  26. Ok, here is the rule. You do not decide what to call me. That is, if you are from Mexico and you choose to call yourselves Americans so be it. I have no authority to tell you what word to use. But the reverse is true. You have no authority to tell me. I thank you all am American and be damned to the rest of this silly political correctness crud!

    FWIW
    jimB

  27. Well, Jim, here’s another way of looking at it. I get considerably irritated when the Roman Catholics co-opt the word “Catholic” and call themselves “Catholic” without qualifying that with the word “Roman”. Is this at all analogous? They are not the only catholics in the world although they like to refer to themselves this way. Am I aking for *political* correctness or simply wanting them to be just plain correct?

    I do make an effort not to refer to myself as an American when I’m outside my own country. I tend to say, “I’m from the U.S.” I don’t think of that as being politically correct but rather being precise and also considerate.

  28. Oh jimB, I wasn’t being politically correct. I could be shot for treason denying Americans are Americans! God help me if the “dentist” gets through MP’s eagle eye. Besides I just did it to make Dah-Veed happy.

  29. Actually, the response is usually, “Oh, the States.”

    But then the original question tends not to be “What nationality are you?” but, rather, “Where are you from?”

    And then they refer to me thereafter as a “Yank”. (Sigh.)

  30. Ellie – thanks!! I would absolutely love it if you nicked the story about my neighbours for any purpose at all. If you could nick my neighbours at the same time, that would be even better.

  31. I wouldn’t worry about Cathy and Boaz, David. As a rule, Australians tend to knock seven bells out of each other over the slightest disagreement, but they then forget about it very quickly. It’s that damn awful beer they drink, a couple of cans of that and you forget anything.