The Children’s Bill of Entitlements
By Rob Kremer
You may have read the glowing newspaper accounts: “Portland children write own bill of
rights.” On the cutting edge again, Portland is “the first major U.S. city to have a
Children’s Bill of Rights written by the very people it affects.”
But if you look into what this so-called bill of rights says, and the way in which it came
about, you’d be as disturbed as I am.
The effort was led by Portland Mayor Tom Potter’s office. The idea was to assemble a
convention of hundreds of school-age kids, lead them through a process in which they
would decide what their “rights” are, produce a resolution that spells them out, and have
the city council vote to adopt them.
We are apparently supposed to believe that the end product these several hundred kids
produced—a manifesto which would make Karl Marx proud—was all their own work
and not influenced by the ideology of the adults who ran the convention.
So, what did the kids decide they had a “right” to? You’ll be shocked to learn that they
staked a petulant claim to every nanny-state benefit ever devised:
“We have the right to access adequate nutrition, and the community should provide
for this right.”
“We have the right to any medical care, nutrition and fitness deemed necessary for
“We have the inherent right to shelter.”
And on and on it goes. Nowhere is the word “parent” mentioned in the document, and the
word “family” appears only in passing. In sum, it is simply a demand for cradle-to-grave
It’s to be expected from children, I suppose. After all, kids want to be taken care of. But
there were adults in the room too. Apparently, the adults who were present didn’t
understand the first thing about the definition of “rights.” Most liberals don’t.
The original Bill of Rights limited government power. Each and every one spelled out
things the government could not do to an individual. Our founders properly understood
the meaning of the word “rights”—those inherent freedoms that government cannot take
But Mayor Potter, his staff and the entire Portland City Council (since they voted
unanimously to support the document) turn the meaning of the word “right” on its head. In their world view, rights are not something the government can’t take from you but
rather things the government must do for you.
Anything government gives to one person must first be taken from another. If rights are
benefits that must be granted, it requires someone else’s rights to be taken away. It’s
contradictory. Properly understood, rights cannot be government benefits.
The French enlightenment philosopher de Montesquieu wrote, “The deterioration of
every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.”
The concept of individual rights is the central organizing principle of our society and our
system of government. It is the foundation of our freedoms. It should be the job of every
government entity to protect the meaning of “rights” and be vigilant to defend the decay
of that meaning.
But now we have government officials actively involved in promoting that decay, taking
hundreds of children by the hand and leading them down a path to a conclusion based on
a flawed understanding of the most important founding principle of our nation.
Imagine the teachable moment that was missed in this childrens’ “convention.” Imagine
that they spent the first few sessions teaching the kids the true meaning of the word
“rights.” Imagine had they explained to these impressionable minds that everything they
want the government to give them had to be first taken from someone else. Well, then
the “Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of the City of Portland and Multnomah
County” might not have looked as if it were written by Karl Marx himself.
Of course, that would assume there were adults in the room.
BrainstormNW - September 2006