January 24, 2013

On January 11, 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed the Second Bill of Rights, where he laid down certain rights that every American is entitled to: The right to useful and remunerative job in the nations industries; right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation; the right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which gives him and his family a decent living; right of every businessman, large and small to trade in an atmosphere of freedom; right of every family to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care, protection from the economic fear of old age and the right to a good education.

A careful look at these rights show they’re joined to one important right, the right to employment. To realize these rights, a job is necessary to pay for the benefits which the government provides by raising revenue through taxes on incomes and other means deemed necessary by Congress. The idea behind a Second Bill of Rights was to protect both opportunity and security, by creating rights to employment and other rights. Roosevelt’s idea of the second bill of rights was based on the belief that American Revolution was incomplete and that a new set of rights was essential to finish it.

The goal is to expose an important part of American history, the right to employment neglected and disguised as no right but rather, responsibility of every individual to acquire one. Proposed in 1944, the idea of the second bill could be traced to the earliest days of Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was a direct result of American experience during the Great Depression, a period of massive unemployment and extreme poverty. The misery and economic dilemma of the Depression, made it reasonable to propose a right to economic security which could only be attained through employment.

In his famous speech of 1941, Roosevelt proposed the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. They were in direct response to the growing international crisis and the effect of the Second World War. He insisted that these essential freedoms exist “everywhere in the world. The link between the four freedoms and the Second bill is that, both seek economic freedom and security and in Roosevelt’s words, “Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.” The bill of rights’ purpose was for freedom from want which translates to economic freedom, based on the contention that people who live in “want” are not free.

Today’s reality is a nation that has done enough to protect three of the four freedoms, while the freedom from wants neglected and never spoken about as a right. Both freedom of religion and speech have been carefully preserved and protected under the First Amendment as constitutionally given rights. Freedom from fear is protected with the nation’s military and massive defense spending on keeping the homeland safe.

The freedom from wants which if properly interpreted meant the right to a job, has been completely neglected and never considered a right. Though, Roosevelt declared existence of a link between freedom from fear and freedom from want. The reality, having a secured nation is a right but the right to employment and freedom from want is never considered a business of the government. While Roosevelt believed in individualism, it was freedom not equality that motivated the second bill of rights, the belief that people who live in “want” are not free. And since “want” is inevitable, the only way to freedom is a new conception of rights, with the right to a job as the ultimate aim. It is the fuel that drives the economy and without it, a man is not free.

If asked many Americans believe Social Security is in the constitution as a right. The fact, it is not so but rather, one of Roosevelt’s greatest ideas. The government has been able to include Social Security as a right based on widely held belief that adequate provision for retirement years is a right, not a mere privilege. In actuality, Social Security can only survive if people work and pay into it. But in an era where the right to work is not considered a right, the future of Social Security seems unrealistic but on a shaky ground.

The bill of rights influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has become a model for many nations’ legal and political documents. Despite worldwide acceptance, the United States continues to live under its vision by accepting some of its ideas as rights while neglecting the most essential, the freedom from want or right to employment. Liberals in Congress committed to the principle of “freedom from want,” but in terms of actual policy, the public commitment seems nonexistence.

America and the leadership have embraced individualism which promotes rights of private ownership and political freedom but rejects government intervention when it comes to protecting the right to work or freedom from want. The idea that the unemployed, must fend for themselves and if they can’t find work, it is not the business of the state. Many college graduates capable and able to work are without job and denied of the freedom from want. The nation has lost sight of the idea that paved the way for the second bill and the private sector has been given the duty of creating jobs, a right and duty of the government.

It remains unknown why Roosevelt’s vision as stated in the bill of rights, failed to become part of our nation’s constitutional amendment. The election of Richard Nixon, may have dashed the hope of having Roosevelt’s ideas of freedom added to the constitution. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has been able to interpret the constitution to include certain rights despite their nonexistence in the original constitution, so why not do same with freedom from want or right to employment?

Perhaps it is political gridlock, lack of Will and the belief in individualism, that made it impossible for the nation to commit to the bill of rights. While it is not a legal document, it deserves public acceptance as part of amendments to the constitution. The constitution guarantees the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness but there is no happiness without a means of survival or right to work. Americans have come to believe in Social Security as a right, so why can’t we cherish the freedom from want or right to employment with same spirit as a fundamental right? The point, a job is a fundamental right and everyone capable must have one.

Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD} is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. He is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available at Follow on Twitter @san0670.


Categories: Constitutional Law

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