Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Friday, May 19, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- “Property has its duties as well as its rights.”

Is smoking in bars and restaurants a property right? Does ownership of the tables and chairs, the bulding and the land on which these establishments sit carry with it the power and the right to set the policy on smoking which all must follow, live or die with?

“Property has its duties as well as its rights.”

This quote is from a 19th century debate in the English parliament. It was used to remind members of that august body that the people of Britain had left the feudal, absolute privileges of property in the past. The Lords of the Land, the Rulers of landless peasants, were no more. Representative democracy stood as a voice and a protector of all, not just the few, the lucky, the well-heeled, the influential, the families and the cronies of the powerful.

In all of this, the United States led the way in the U. S. Constitution. The principles stated in the Preamble to that sacred document should be read by each of us every day of our lives. It should serve as the overarching guide to every democratically elected body in this great nation. It reads:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Significantly, this Preamble, this Remember Always This Is What We Are About statement, does not mention property–its duties or its rights. These would be spelled out in the tangle of court decisions over centuries. But this Preamble, over two centuries later in time, still represents what the work of our republican form of government is about.

And within that Preamble, “promote the general Welfare” should catch and hold every eye.

The “general Welfare” is not about the health and well-being of individual property owners and what they store up behind fences and closed doors. Behind those fences and doors the rights of property owners are supported and protected. However, open those fences and doors, invite the public in, and owners of property take on duties, duties often tied to the health and the safety of those invited in, duties that directly connect with “promoting the general Welfare.”

The above is about the Crossroads community which is in the midst of a battle over an ordinance that would ban smoking in bars and restaurants. The local Restaurant and Tavern Association is firmly opposed. After pleading a case (entirely speculative) that a smoking ban would hurt business, their back-up argument is based on the right of property owners to determine the use of their property. They wave this false flag as if it were Old Glory on Iwo Jima.

Needless to say, "promoting the general Welfare" is never mentioned by the owners or our elected officials. Such are the fruits of two decades of preaching the hollow slogan, "Get the government off of our backs." Such is the way medical science is waved aside and the well being and rights of the majority in this community, the non-smokers, are ignored.
Here is an earlier posting of mine on the subject:

Smoke Free Bars and Hockey Helmets


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