It’s an old observation that we need to recognize the civic duties that go with our civic rights. Robert Heinlein even performed a thought experiment in which he postulated a society in which this was a matter of law: Only those who served their time in dangerous public service (including, but not limited to, military service) were entitled to vote or sit on juries, on the theory that only those who showed themselves willing to risk their lives for their society were fit to participate in its most important decisions. Unfortunately, Heinlein’s thought experiment, while it made for a rip-roaring science fiction yarn, was not convincing as a political system; for one thing, it has a slight whiff of fascism that I find off-putting.
As Zen pointed out at this very blog, while a Bill of Rights needs the force of law to back it up, a Bill of Responsibilities cannot be enforced by law, and we ought not try. A voluntary Bill of Responsibilities, written or unwritten, is nonetheless essential to the functioning of a free society. Citizens are free to disregard its provisions, but every time they do, they effectively cast a vote against their own freedom.
So here’s a crack at a combined Bill of Rights/Bill of Responsibilities. For the present discussion, I’ll limit myself to the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the present Bill of Rights in the United States.
1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The responsible citizen will voluntarily participate in a church or other religious or civic organization that inculcates basic civic virtue, without which a free society cannot exist. He will be sincere in his religious convictions, not using a pretense of religion to give legal cover to secular activities. He will exercise tolerance towards others as they worship how, where, or what they may. He will never shout down a speaker, though he is under no obligation to provide an audience to all speakers. He will insist that the newspapers and other media that he patronizes work diligently and in good faith to report fully and fairly on both sides of every issue, recognizing that there are almost always are two sides, and will shun any that proves itself careless with the facts. He will not pass along rumors that cannot be substantiated; he is not a gossip, whether in private conversation or social media. He will recognize the difference between petitioning for redress, which is always just; civil disobedience, which is not often just and is to be regarded as a last resort; and lawlessness, which is never just.
2. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The responsible citizen will treat ownership of arms as a heavy responsibility, taking due care that the arms in his possession are inaccessible to children, the mentally ill, and criminals. He will be diligent to learn and practice basic firearm safety. He will develop the proficiency in the use of firearms that will be needed should he ever be called into military service in time of emergency.
3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The responsible citizen will respect the uniform and teach his children to do the same.
4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The responsible citizen will volunteer any information that comes into his possession that may aid in maintaining the just rule of law. As his home is his castle, he will uphold the law within his own home and before his children.
5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The responsible citizen will shun those who boast of evading justice on technicalities. He will not support politicians who abuse the power of eminent domain for any but necessary and proper public purposes that cannot be achieved any other way.
6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
The responsible citizen will never attempt to evade jury duty. As a juror, he will not nullify the law out of mere sympathy for a defendant, but only when the application of the law would be patently unjust. He will not wait for a subpoena before agreeing to testify on matters in which he is a material witness.
7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
The responsible citizen turns to the civil courts to resolve disputes only as a last resort.
8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The responsible citizen does not wait for the law to compel him to redress the harms he has caused through his own misdeeds, nor does he limit redress to the minimum the law compels of him.
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The responsible citizen does not assert a right to engage in conduct which he knows in his own heart is wicked. He does not ask whether the law will permit a particular course of action, but whether the course of action is intrinsically just.
10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The responsible citizen recognizes that, under a liberal government, everything not expressly prohibited to the people is permitted, while everything not expressly permitted to the government is prohibited; but that not all that is permitted is just.