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Rights and Privileges — by John Reed

Rights and privileges
Last week, I endured the chore every adult hates to deal with: replacing my driver’s license. Fortunately, the line was not very long and I was able to get in and out relatively quickly. While I was waiting in line, my mind wandered, as usual.
There has been a lot of talk lately about various rights and people who have been denied those rights. I got to thinking about the differences between rights and privileges. For example, driving is not a right, rather it is a privilege earned through testing and licensure.
Some of the problem is semantics. For example, public education is a right, but graduation isn’t. Students must earn the right to graduate by attending school and earning the proper grades. Things get muddy when we start talking about “earned rights“ which is another way to describe a privilege.
Other so-called “earned“ rights would include Social Security. Senior citizens receive Social Security based on how they paid into it when they were working. There are many exceptions that can affect that Social Security check: since I am on a government pension as a retired teacher, I will only get a tiny percentage myself.
Our Constitution was framed with a good bit of flexibility. Despite 230 years of cultural, technological, and philosophical changes in our society, it still manages to work pretty well. Through the years, it has been bent, folded, and amended to reflect changing concerns. New rights have been granted… For example, women and people of color have been granted the right to vote.
However, there has been only one instance of a right being revoked. Fortunately that was fixed, bringing the Prohibition era to an end.
Currently, there are many attempts to define new rights. Let’s not confuse them with privileges.

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