JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — When Jacksonville Presbyterian Church outgrew its 125-seat building a few years ago, it purchased a 10-acre site with the intent to build an 18,000-square-foot facility.
Though the property was in a subdivision zoned for church use, the city government objected to the proposed facility — reportedly because of concerns about traffic, noise and child safety issues.
Hearings were held and the council denied the church’s application for a conditional use permit.
Now the church is appealing to the state government in Salem through the land-use board. A decision is expected in March. Don’t hold your breath. The 140-year-old church may have to look elsewhere for a meeting place. And it may face the grim prospect of losing the money it invested in its real estate.
“Big deal,” you might say. After all, this is not a story about big government abuse. It’s not a story about Washington dictating to local people. It’s a story about local government making a decision. “Farah,” you might say, “I thought you were in favor of local government making local decisions.”
No question about it. In most cases, I agree that local government is preferable to central government. But my concern today is with the very culture of intrusive, busybody government, bred in Washington, perhaps, but rapidly spreading across America. This developing anti-property culture suggests elected and non-elected officials somehow have power over individuals’ rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
In John Stossel’s excellent ABC special last Saturday, he told the story of how the city council of New Rochelle, N.Y., had decided to seize, through eminent domain, the long-time homes of a handful of citizens. The goal? To build a new shopping center that would create new tax revenue for the city.
Imagine that. Imagine the home you own and dream of some day handing down to your children and grandchildren — a home with memories money can never buy — is threatened with seizure by the government. Your compensation is set unilaterally by the government entity that insists your home is just not in the “community’s best interest.”
This is happening today in America more often than most of us realize. And if your neighbor isn’t safe from such exploitation by government, you aren’t either. Nobody is.
Government at every level, we are beginning to see, is corrupt — drunk with power. I feel it myself every day as I drive roadways patrolled with eager-beaver patrolmen hoping to catch me and other unsuspecting motorists in speed traps. The more tickets, the more revenue.
Think about the crazy asset forfeiture laws being drafted in all 50 states and in Washington. They allow your car, your home and your property to be seized because police say drugs were found. No trial is necessary. No offense needs to be proved in a court of law. The word of a cop is all it takes for you to lose your life savings — even if you had nothing to do with the supposed offense.
It raises the question of just whom the government is supposed to be representing?
In America, we’re supposed to have a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Even more important than that is that we are supposed to live under the rule of law. Thus, property owners ought to be secure in the knowledge that, barring extreme circumstances that might pose severe hazards to their neighbors, they will be able to use their property and develop it as they see fit.
That is no longer the case. And Washington is only the worst of the government culprits encroaching on property rights.
Property rights are fundamental. They are literally the building block of a free society. Without them, none of our freedoms amount to a hill of beans.
What all of these abuses have in common is that government is making decisions based on its own economic interests — not yours, not the interests of citizens, not the Constitution, not the rule of law.
When it comes to property rights, there are no absolutes anymore in America. And if property rights are not absolute, then no rights are.
Some people in America place a higher value on free speech rights than rights to property. Yet, free speech rights are derived from the concept of property rights. The founders believed that ideas were akin to property — and that’s why they safeguarded speech and freedom of religion in the First Amendment.
It’s time for citizens to say: “Enough is enough.” America is supposed to be a land of limited government — of self-government — where responsible people are expected to make responsible decisions based on their self-interest.
Grown-up, sovereign individuals do not need nannies — especially nannies who impose their will at the point of a gun.