What are Property Rights?
February 9, 2005
By Joyce Morrison [email protected]
The Illinois Leader
To submit a Letter to the Editor: [email protected]
Opinion - The question is often asked "what are property rights?"

Until we understand the full meaning of the use of property, we cannot fully understand the importance of protecting those rights.

America is strong because of the constitutional right for individuals not only to own property but also to use property to gain personal 'wealth.' When the government -- or [private] land trusts -- own the property, or the property is in bondage, [complete] with controls, it is no longer available for individuals to use for their "American dream."

Most people have the goal to own a home (property). Their investment in their home can be turned into financial gain. The property can be rented to another party and income generated. It can be sold or mortgaged, providing money to reinvest in more property. A business can be operated from privately owned property. There are many ways of gaining income from property and Americans have been ingenious at gaining 'wealth' from their investment.

Through hard work, Americans have always had the right to own property and earn one's own livelihood rather than to work for the government. This has set America apart from other nations.

Individual property owners are now experiencing an influx of regulations and controls destroying the ability to gain earnings from the "use" of property. This use has been taken from them without compensation.

For example, I may desire to rent the use of a piece of land that you own, to raise a garden. However, regulations and controls may not permit me to raise a vegetable garden. The "use" of the property now becomes a major issue. You are denied income and I am denied the use I had hoped, to raise a product to sell. We are both denied 'wealth.'

John Adams said, "The moment that the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the Laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist."

James Madison said, "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort...This being the end [intent] of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures, to every man, whatever is his own. That (which) is not (a) just government, nor is property secure under it, (is one) where arbitrary restrictions...deny to part of its citizens that free use of the (property)" (Emphasis by Dr. Michael S. Coffman of Environmental Perspectives.)

Our founding fathers understood the importance of people controlling their property rather than government control.

"Unalienable property rights were to be limited only by the: (1) right of eminent domain for the public good -- but only with "just compensation" as defined by the Fifth Amendment; or (2) common law concept of harm and nuisance.

The latter was intended to be invoked only at the local level where zoning was under direct control of the people affected. It could only be used where definable harm to another person's health or property value could be demonstrated. Further loss of property rights leads to abuse and eventual tyranny, " according to an Environmental Perspectives report by Dr. Michael Coffman of Sovereignty International.

The reason we warn about many of the programs being forced upon property owners is because the use of their property is threatened -- which is totally against what our founding fathers intended.

Stakeholders involved with your property often determine its use and value. You may ask, "Who has the right to a stake in the property I own and pay taxes on?" Government officials from numerous government agencies, environmental groups and others all believe they have a "stake" in your property.

Programs such as Endangered Species, wetlands, viewsheds, Heritage preservation, etc. are all programs wherein an outsider has found a reason to claim a "stake" in your private property.

Preservation means your holdings must be preserved in its present state for perpetuity. Is this the use you had planned for your property when it was purchased -- or is this an abuse of authority?

Hundreds of homes and small businesses are being forced to sell at a pre-determined price (often far less than the highest and best use or even the appraised value) each week due to eminent domain abuse. The powers of eminent domain are used to take private property to make way for big box stores or other businesses which the local government deems for "the better good" with the motive of putting more tax dollars in their coffers.

The new businesses get huge tax breaks -- called abatements, which often run for 5-10 years or longer -- as an attraction to entice them to locate in an aggressive economic development community.

The eminent domain clause in the Constitution certainly never meant the taking of someone's property to give it to someone else to be used for "the better good." Post offices, military bases, government buildings, and highways were the [specifically stated limits] in the Constitution for the use of eminent domain.

Some authorities have 'quick take' powers. This means the property owner doesn't even have the right to fight, but must vacate his premises. By the time he takes his case to court, it is a little late -- his home is gone and a new business is sitting on the site.

Other programs take the use of your property -- with no "just compensation" as required by the 5th Amendment. Scenic Byway, Scenic Rivers and streams, Heritage areas, Biosphere areas, etc., could all be called unconstitutional "takings" of the use of private property.

The Scenic and Heritage programs require many controls and regulations on the private property involved. Scenic Byways are not just the highway -- they are the viewshed of the property along the corridor and the adjacent area. This is private property. When local government signs on to the program and uses the grant funds, it commits to undertake actions "such as zoning and other protective measures, to preserve the scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archeological and natural integrity of the scenic byway and the adjacent area as identified in the corridor management plan."

The enforcement of these controls is " incentive based" (grant funded.) Once the grant money is spent by the local government in charge, the hook is in -- and the municipality or county must comply with federal standards, which invade the property rights of the individuals who own property within the designated areas.

A red flag would be the Federal Highway Department (FHWA). The FWHA is in charge of the Scenic Byway program and awards the grants from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) now called TEA-21 funds. The transportation department has always been given the right of eminent domain for "the better good." Will they always use it without abuses?

Volumes can be written about the slipping away of rights of Americans to own property with the pride, ingenuity and opportunity of permitting them to be self-employed.

The very thing that has made America great is being given away at the local level in exchange for incentive-based programs bringing [with them] federal and state regulations and abuses.

It is not time to become complacent, but [rather] to become informed and attend the meetings in your area.

The property you have worked so hard to obtain in order to enjoy personal freedom in the "pursuit of happiness" is at risk. 


Joyce Morrison lives in southwestern Illinois. She is a chapter leader for Concerned Women for America and she and her husband, Gary, represent the local Citizens for Private Property Rights. Joyce is Secretary to the Board of Directors of Rural Restoration/ADOPT Mission, a national farm ministry located in Sikeston. She has become a nationally-recognized advocate for property rights.

Copyright 2005, The Illinois Leader.