When our Founding Fathers brought our democratic republic into existence, they built it on a straightforward, unambiguous foundation. Government, whether at the state level or federal level, has a simple yet elegant charter, according to the Declaration: to protect our inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (By this last phrase, the Founders meant “property” since men pursue happiness through accumulating, acquiring, and using stuff. I pursued happiness last weekend, for instance, by buying a new grill for my patio.)
These are “rights” because they are bestowed on us by our Creator. They are “inalienable” because no earthly power has the moral authority to deprive us of any one of these rights. God gave them to us. No one can be allowed to take them away.
It’s worth noting in passing that the Founders believed in a “Creator” with a capital “C,” and believed that man is a created being, not an evolved one. They also believed that God and not government is the source of our rights. Contrary to what most Americans believe, we do not get our rights from government, we get them from God.
So what is the purpose of government if it is not to give us our rights? The Founders were equally clear about this: governments are established to “secure” or protect or guard the rights already given to us by God.
Apparently, the preservationist organization Historic Denver needs a crash course in remedial American legal history. Historic Denver is trying to wrest control of a classic diner whose owner wants to sell it so he can retire.
Tom Messina has been flipping pancakes and frying eggs at a 24-hour restaurant, Tom’s Diner, in Denver, Colorado for the last 20 years. He has a beautiful family, and, at age 60, he wants to ease into retirement and use the sale of the restaurant to fund it. By all rights, it should be a comfortable retirement. He has already received a $4.8 million offer from a developer who has plans to turn the property into an eight-story apartment building with shops on the ground floor.
All this aligns perfectly with Denver’s rezoning of the property in 2010, which marked it for denser, mixed-use development. Historic Denver, royally offended that Messina had the effrontery to think he could do with his property what he wanted to do, decided to pursue designating Messina’s restaurant as a historic landmark. This would drastically lower its value.
Their reasoning? The restaurant is a mid-century example of something called “Googie architecture” (don’t ask me, I never heard of it either), and therefore must be preserved, no matter the cost to Mr. Messina.
It should be noted that seven of these restaurants were built by the same company in the 1960s, and three of them are still standing, one of them on the same avenue on which Messina’s restaurant sits. No matter. The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously to landmark the building despite Messina’s in-person appeal. The city council will vote on the matter later this month.
Messina understatedly called all this “very unsettling.” It’s not only unsettling, but it’s also flatly unconstitutional. According to the Fifth Amendment, no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” He must commit a crime first and then it is only after “due process,” which means an official indictment, the assistance of counsel, facing accusers in open court, and a trial by a jury of one’s peers, that his property can be touched.
Well, Messina has never been even charged with a crime let alone convicted of one. This is a perfect example of what Frederic Bastiat called “lawful plunder,” in which the state grabs a private citizen’s property against his will and transfers it to someone else. This is not something that a single member of the Landmark Preservation Commission could do on his own without committing a crime.
Worse, the city of Denver is violating the 8th Commandment of God, which says bluntly “Thou shalt not steal.” Stealing is still stealing even when it is done in the name of the law and under the cover of the law.
As Ron Paul says, “Don’t steal - the government hates the competition.” Or, as the revised quote from the Denver city government says: “Don’t steal - let us do it for you.”