The Right to Roam

  In England, as in America, a favorite saying is, "A man's home is his castle." No matter how grand or humble, your property is your own. No one may invade it. But the British government recently announced plans to compel landowners to allow access to their private property under a "right to roam" declaration. This will affect mainly aristocrats owning large estates, and few people are concerned over the property rights of rich dukes and earls. Bluebloods are fairing poorly these days, with the recent abolition of the rights of hereditary peers to take their seats in Britain's House of Lords. And now they face encroachment on their property as well. Tony Blair, England's left-leaning prime minister, promised to increase public access to private property, and eighty percent of Britons support the idea. Hikers already have access to private property in the UK, so long as they stay on marked trails; but now they want more. You may ask: "Why should we worry about them? Isn't this just a British problem?" Well, for one thing, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are political soul-mates. Blair even modeled his election campaign on Clinton's, hiring some of the same people to run it. Britain is our close friend, often a bellwether for what happens here. Those on the left in any nation, and that includes the U.S., are always stirring the pot of class warfare. The "haves" vs. the "have nots." So this debate really has a lot more to do with how the power game is played than with the rights of hikers. Lords and ladies aren't the only ones with big estates these days. Does Mr. Blair imagine rock stars will want strangers roaming their property? What about the oil-sheiks, who already spend millions keeping spectators away? And where does this "right to roam" stop? The castles on those estates are historic. Should ramblers have the right to rummage through them, too? And is it fair that so few should own so much? Let us not forget that many countries have already solved the "fairness" problem by dividing land and redistributing wealth. But you wouldn't want to live in any of those countries. A landowners' group is protesting Mr. Blair's latest gambit, taking the case to the European Court. Rest assured, it could just as easily happen here. In fact, it was only by virtue of a swift public outcry in an election year that the Occupational Safety Hazard Administration was recently blocked from enforcing strict regulations on home offices in this country. Let these cases put us on guard. The sanctity of one's home and the principle of private property in general is rooted in Scripture. God says, in Isaiah 32:18, "My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." Sea changes are always incremental. A small incursion on somebody else's rights -- somebody nobody sympathizes with. Today it's their backyard. But one day, it may be yours or mine. So this isn't an issue we can dismiss. We need to be vigilant to defend our homes and land, or one day the "right to roam" might become the "right to trespass."


Chuck Colson



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