• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

The rights stuff

Lot of people in the news lately because they feel their rights aren't being respected. In Fort Wayne, some Burmese are mad because a laundromat put a sign on the door telling them to keep out, and a city councilwoman is upset because she can't get her proposal introduced to add the transgendered to the city's anti-disctrimination ordinance. Elsewhere in Indiana, a high school valedictorian wants to stop a student-led prayer at graduation because it would violate his First Amendment right to be free from religion.

It's worth remembering occasionally the way we started out in this country, not quite as tolerant and freedom-seeking as we sometimes imagine. Somewhere in my weekend reading, I ran across the story of Mary Dyer of Rhode Island, one of the first women hanged in this country. After years of not being able to stamp out the Quakers with imprisonments, public floggings and the cutting off of ears, the Puritans in Massachusetts in 1658 passed a law banishing Quakers under pain of death. In 1659, Dyer and two Quaker men were ordered hanged for repeatedly coming to Massachusetts in definance of the law. The two men were executed, but Dyer was given a last-minute pardon. But she was determined to spread the Quaker faith and challenge the law forbidding Quakers in the state. So she went back in 1660, and her pardon was rescinded.

Captain John Webb signalled to Edward Wanton, officer of the gallows, who adjusted the noose. Mary needed no assistance in mounting the scaffold and a small smile lighted her face. Pastor Wilson had his large handkerchief ready to place over her head so no one would have to see that look of rapture twisted to distortion - only the dangling body. As her neck snapped, the crowd stood paralyzed in the silence of death until a spring breeze lifted her limp skirt and set it to billowing. "She hangs there as a flag for others to take example by," remarked an unsympathetic bystander. That was indeed Mary Dyer's intention - to be an example, a "witness" in the Quaker sense, for freedom of conscience.

Just being a Quaker in Massachusetts was her crime, a capital offense. This isn't to make light of complaints today from people who feel they aren't being treated fairly, and we expect to always make progress in the respecting of rights. But we have made progress, and we ought to stop and be thankful once in a while for what we've achieved.


Lewis Allen
Tue, 03/16/2010 - 3:58am

That's some much-needed perspective there.

Bob G.
Tue, 03/16/2010 - 8:15am

One thing I've found interesting is the blurred line between RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES (today)...

Rights are inalienable.
Privileges can be denied or taken away.

Many people think they are interchangeable...they are not.
Nor should they ever be.

"Therein lies the lesson for today"
~ Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery)