A Free Iraq Can’t Succeed Without Private Property Protections

March 12, 2004

By Cheryl K. Chumley, associate editor, APC Wire

John Adams said, “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God – and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it – anarchy and tyranny commence.”

So how does Iraq, based in part on months of influence from America’s best and brightest, choose to advance this fundamental human right of property ownership in its interim Constitution, the Law of the Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period? By this less-than-stellar introduction to its much touted private property protection clause, Article 16, Sections A, B and C: “Public property is sacrosanct and its protection is the duty of every citizen.”

This is what we’re patting ourselves on the back for helping develop – that first and foremost, citizens’ duty is to protect public land? This is why we’re to join Secretary of State Colin Powell in celebrating the March 8 signing of this document “as a day reflecting a bright future for the Iraqi people?” If this is what we’re celebrating, we as a nation need a stiff dose of internal analysis because praising such indicates we have forgotten that without private property protections, no other civil rights can exist.

Without private property protections, freedoms to choose religion and place of worship, speak without fear, live where desired, maintain personal privacy and operate a business in a profitable manner are all jeopardized. That’s because all these activities take place on land, and once government owns land, it has control of what can and cannot occur on the property.

Let’s just say, for example, our government owned all the land – as could become reality in this nation, given the goal of United Nations’ sustainable development policy and collaborating Wildlands Project advocates who seek, with great success lately, to place at least 50% of America’s property off limits to human use. Then say the government, maybe caving to pressures of an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union, decided that a certain religion and style of worship ran contrary to its and the nation’s best interests and ordered churches that offer such services to relocate from publicly held lands. For the sake of example, let’s just say this church maintained that homosexuality was a sin.

To continue the scenario, say government finds that denouncing homosexuality is not conducive to its “equality for all, at whatever cost” principles, and so declares that all worshipers who engage in promoting this principle of these now-prohibited churches are barred from even meeting informally to discuss spiritual matters on publicly held lands. Government’s argument is that allowing condemnation of homosexuality on its lands constitutes support of the belief, and therefore violates the equal protection rights of homosexuals and the First Amendment “establishment of religion” clause.

As a worshiper of this religion, where would you go?

You could fight this government decree, of course, charging that your Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion choice was denied. But since government did not pass any laws outlawing this religion per se, but only prohibited the worship of it on its public lands, your arguments would likely be considered moot. Your sole recourse, if you chose to continue this line of religious study, would be to retreat to the privacy of your own home.

Sound unbelievable? This could never happen here, in this nation of freedom, free market and emphasis on the individual, right? As far as government’s control of the land, it’s already occurring.

For proof, look to the western portion of the United States and the estimated 75% of Utah property that already rests in the control of state and federal government entities. Or at the 95% of Alaska land that is deemed off-limits to private ownership. Look at the recent successes of radical environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Audubon Society who work to advance U.N. goals of sustainable development – meaning, controlled “Smart Growth” and Wildlands Project agendas that unequivocally state that humans are destructive to nature and need to be corralled into small, government-managed areas so that the salamander and bear can roam freely.

This is but a few examples of how we as a nation are relinquishing our private property rights and continuing the betrayal of Founding Fathers who knew the importance of land rights and stated so inarguably in the Fifth Amendment: that “no person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Else, as Adams said, tyranny will commence. But we as a nation are forgetting this warning, and are allowing our God-given rights to be transferred to government hands, controlled and doled as a favor or reward for political correctness. We are forgetting to such a degree that we not only seek to undo the hard-earned protections of our nation’s founders, but also spread this watered-down interpretation of basic human right to other countries, congratulating ourselves in the process.

On the one hand, Sections B and C of Iraq’s interim Constitution do guarantee that “the right to private property shall be protected,” that “no one may be prevented from disposing of his property except within the limits of the law,” and that owners will retain control of their lands except in cases of “eminent domain, in circumstances and in the manner set forth in law, and on condition that he is paid just and timely compensation.”

On the other hand, though, perhaps it’s as Patrick Basham, senior fellow for the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute, suggests: “The headline rhetoric looks good, but the devil’s in the details.”

How, for example, can this private property safeguard be taken seriously with so many references and promises of laws-to-come that will ultimately clarify the manner in which property can be disposed and grabbed? It’s these references, along with the curious inclusion of unnecessary gender-specific pronouns, that should strike ominously at the hearts of private property protectionists who truly understand that land ownership stems not from government whim but from a God-given, inborn right of all humans.

It’s the Iraqi document’s lack of mention of free market principles – the cousin of private land rights protections – that should also come as a warning of our nation’s changing belief system, from republic to socialist, as we not only dismiss the decimation of our own capitalistic roots but also applaud the spread of a fated “equality for all” economic system elsewhere.

Look at what we’re congratulating ourselves for supporting and achieving with Article 25, which gives the Iraqi government “exclusive competence” to “formulate a general policy on wages.” Article 14 advances this tenet of socialism further, by recognizing the right of the individual to “to security, education, health care and social security.”

The Iraqi government, Article 14 continues, “shall strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities to the people.”

Wage controls, a welfare system, government controlled education. A government that professes its duty to deliver this quality of life and equality of prosperity to all its citizens. Sounds a bit like doom for the private property hopefuls living in Iraq, who dreamed of the wealth that could be generated with property and business ownership but who will soon find their newly elected government officials – struggling to realize the promises of this welfare system – turning to regulation as the answer.

To honor the commitments promised in this interim Constitution, desperate politicians will have little recourse but to enact eminent domain provisions in the futile belief that controlling land and therefore business will somehow provide the money for the guaranteed benefits. Reversion to dictatorship – tyranny, as Adams put it – seems imminent.

That we as a nation, as reflected in Secretary Powell’s statements, would offer unabashed support of such a system of governance is telling, a comment of how far we ourselves have strayed from Founding Father principle and its absolute of private property protection.

Perhaps we should not be surprised then if history remembers March 8, 2004 not as Powell depicted, the beginning of Iraq’s “bright future,” but rather as a day of infamy, marking the start of a failed Bush administration nation-building policy that was sadly based on our own deviated, hypocritical interpretations of inborn freedom and that resulted in a slow return of oppression of the Iraqi people.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods (www.CFACT.org). He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.