Letter to the Editor: We don’t need government to choose our rights

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Dear Editor,

Where do our rights come from? Our founding fathers believed that our basic rights come from our creator and followed through with this belief in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Consider our right to free exercise of religion. It is not the role of the government to decide how we practice our religion. What if the government observed that most religious people went to their place of worship once a week so they made a law that people could go to a place of worship only once a week? If they wanted to have special religious observances more often or hold a prayer breakfast, Vacation Bible School, etc., they would have to apply for a permit from the zoning board or pay a fine if they didn’t have a permit. This scenario strikes us as something that doesn’t happen in America. We would all agree that it is not up to the government to decide how often we need to practice our faith, it is up to the citizens to determine that. That’s what “free exercise” is all about. I think we would all agree the once-a-week restriction turns a right given by our creator into a privilege given by the government.

On the other hand, consider the right to free speech. I asked in a letter to a Supervisor how the 20 ft. height limit in the flag ordinance was determined. I was told by the Prince Edward County Administrator that it was decided by considering the height of flag poles already in existence. Most of them were not higher than 20 ft. so they felt that was a reasonable limit. In other words, the government decided how tall the citizens needed the flag pole to be. It should not be up to the government to decide how much freedom of speech the citizens need.

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The government keeps reminding us that no right is unlimited, the old “crowded theater” argument. Now, of course we all agree, a flag pole and flag could legitimately be restricted if it interferes with visibility of drivers or if it is in danger of falling on someone, etc. But the arbitrary 20-ft. limit in Prince Edward County has nothing to do with health or safety. It is arbitrary and I feel it is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. The county government might be wondering when this flag controversy is going to fade away, but I hope it doesn’t. Not until the county government recognizes that our free speech is a right given by our creator and not a privilege given by the government.

Cindy Koether