OPINIONS AND FACTS THOUGHTS AND PROPERTY
- Nancey McMurtry
- April 04, 2020
Opinions, opinions, opinions! We all have them. Some of us have quite a few, on most subjects. And, why not? We are entitled to have an opinion. Some opinions are based on preconceived ideas; others on personal observations and experiences. Some opinions are based on the observations and experiences related to us by other people we trust or know well. Some opinions are based in fact or on observable events; others are not. The opinions based somewhat on perceived fact are otherwise known as “informed opinions.” Most of the time the opinions we gather to ourselves, which are not based in fact, do little or no harm to others and simply leave us living in a benign fool’s paradise on that particular subject. In other pronounced circumstances, non-factual opinions in the custody of someone with a sphere of influence or a platform from which to influence others can be very harmful.
Think of the recent circumstances in Ferguson, MO where a young man was shot by police. Some citizens, with an obvious desire to obscure what really happened, gave false statements to the police as to what they had observed as to actions of the police and the young man who was shot. Others in the community, hearing these observations, drew very quick opinions that the police were in the wrong and out of those statements came several nights of rioting that left businesses destroyed, cars burned, homes robbed and citizens harmed. Also, out of this situation came the slogan “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. When the final, official report was issued as to what actually had happened, it was revealed that the citizens who gave non-factual statements to the police had been forced to acknowledge that what they reported was not what had happened or to confess that they had seen nothing at all and had not been present during the events that led to the young man being shot. So, all of the opinions which led to the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan repeated across the U. S. and the riots which did such great harm, were based on false statements and hastily formed. After the facts of the event were known and the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan was still being repeated to influence behavior in other situations, the persons pressing that slogan were confronted with the knowledge that the events inspiring that slogan had never happened. It was not factual. The reply was something to the effect that even if those facts were not present in Ferguson, the slogan was still pertinent because those circumstances had happened “in general” in other places. Please note that there were no facts given to support the “in general” opinion.
While we know that the situation described above is an extreme example of what can occur when people assert opinions as fact and the “fact” turns out to be a lie, or at best, a sad mistake, opinions carry weight in many circumstances. What we also know for certain is that facts are important because facts are deemed to represent truth. The Oxford Dictionaries define fact as: a thing that is indisputably the case. Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defines fact as: reality; truth; as, in fact. It further comments that “To deny a fact knowingly is to lie.” What generally distinguishes opinion from fact is that opinions are subjective; facts can be verified.
This leads me to a quote I hear from time to time that is generally attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, although one or two others are also given credit for saying something similar. Regardless of who said it, I find the thought brilliant. The basic quote is “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. The variants on the Moynihan quote are: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”; “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.” Bernard Baruch put it this way: “Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” January 6, 1950 issue of the Deming (New Mexico) Headlight.
If we offer our opinion as fact we must be aware that we are putting it forward as truth. Truth is a serious matter with God; beware of the consequences. Subjective thoughts vs. facts is a mine field we stumble through every day. While we know of people who blatantly use an opinion and propel it forward as a fact, most of us form what we have termed as informed opinions and are comfortable with resting at that point. The conclusion here is to shy away from anyone with a platform who has turned an opinion into a set of facts which differ significantly from proven truth. Those “facts” may be about the Bible, the Church, the government at any level, politics/politicians, science, community situations or the U.S. Constitution. We may draw differing conclusions from a set of facts, but we may not skew facts to create our own alternate set of facts. That action creates what Webster concludes is a lie. Persons who create their own set of facts obviously do so for a particular reason; and those persons who create a lie to influence matters rarely, if ever, have a just cause in mind.
But what about our opinions, erroneous or otherwise? Why are we entitled to those? For those of us who live in the U. S., our opinions are guaranteed as property rights. At least, that idea is expressed in the writings of James Madison who is known as “The Father of the Constitution”. I recently read an excellent article in Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College. The article was written by Dr. Larry P. Arnn, the President of Hillsdale College and was adapted from a speech he delivered on October 15, 2015. The article was entitled “Property Rights and Religious Liberty”. The article quoted James Madison and reminded me of some education I’d received on the Constitution many years earlier. It caused me to go back and review what Madison had written on the subject of Property which is embedded in Amendment IV to The Constitution of the United States of America. That Amendment says:
“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.”
In The Founders’ Constitution, Chapter 16, Document 23, is a paper from James Madison on the subject of Property written 29 March 1792, Papers 14:266-68. Within the paper Madison expounds on his concept of what is included in the subject of Property.
“This term in its particular application means ‘that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.’
In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to everyone else the like advantage.
In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.
In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.
He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.
He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.
He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.
In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.
Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.
Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho’ from an opposite cause.
Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”
Property as expressed in Amendment IV is “persons, houses, papers and effects”. Your effects include your thoughts and opinions. Therefore, you have a right to your opinions and the government has the mandate to protect that right. Even as I write this, current events are screaming that somewhere along the line the government has not only abandoned this mandate, it is turning on its citizens in an attempt to deprive them of the right to hold certain opinions. The perfect example of this is the recent declaration by Attorney General Loretta Lynch that she would take aggressive action against anyone who used “anti-Muslim rhetoric” that “edges toward violence.” What does that mean? What is speech that “edges toward violence”? The problem is that Lynch seems to be the one who gets to decide that question. If someone expresses an opinion that Islamic extremism is coming from immigrant Muslim communities and we need to curtail future immigration from Muslim countries, does that fit her definition? Maybe. And from a different venue, what about the recent conflicts on several college campuses where students were rebelling against anyone who expressed an opinion that differed from the one they held? It is offensive to them to hear something that contradicts their own dearly held opinions.
In another portion of the above referenced paper by James Madison on property he further writes:
“More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.” (Emphasis added.)
It is sad to say that the unalienable right to express one’s conscience is also being attacked. Think of those persons who have rejected portions of the Obamacare Health law due to their conscience on certain matters. The government is asserting that those objections are invalid. Citizens and organization are forced to turn to the court system for relief. James Madison would be appalled to know that conscience, which he believed to be the most sacred of all property, is under siege by the very government which was formed to protect it.
What is common to both those in the government who threaten the right to hold and express an opinion and those under-educated students on college campuses who want to restrict your right to express an opinion to a certain place and at a certain time, is that they have forgotten, or more probably, have never known that above the Constitution, it is God who has granted you the right of property and your right to hold an opinion. God is the Creator. He created Earth and it is He who has given individuals the right to hold title to a certain portion of land on His earth. It is God who created every individual and, to borrow a phrase from The Declaration of Independence, endowed his Creation “with certain unalienable Rights”. Among those rights is the right to use your mind and to hold and express an opinion. God expressly placed your conscience within you. Therefore, because God has granted it, you are entitled to your opinion. No individual, organization or government should have the authority to forbid you holding an opinion. Government sets itself above God when it attempts to take away that which it has not given.
It is also very unfortunate when an individual or organization decides to misuse its rights in a war against God in order to defame God or God’s servants or to interfere with the spreading of the Gospel. While God will not restrict the unalienable rights He has granted, He always wins the war. The ultimate Truth against which all opinions and facts are weighed is His. After all, God is Truth. (John 14:6) Therefore, to requote Bernard Baruch, “no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” And no other person has a right to the property of your opinions.