A Constitutional Guarantee Doesn’t Make It Right

by Curt Kovener   

The Indiana Senate has now passed a measure to make it a part of the Indiana Constitution the right  to hunt, fish or farm. The matter will now go before the Indiana House of Representatives.

If they pass it, then if another legislature in the next two years also approves it, then it goes before the voters. If we approve it, then the constitution is changed.

Remember the property tax caps the majority of Hoosiers voted to place in the constitution a few years back? And now all units of government who provide us with services are feeling a fiscal pinch because of that short sighted folly.

If for a moment you can erase the bucolic view of a fisherman wetting a line in Hoosier waters at dawn or a hunter beginning to take aim at a large racked buck after sitting in a tree stand all day, or Old MacDonald feeding his chickens, sheep, pigs and cows in front of a backdrop of Hoosier Hills, maybe we ought to ask: Should the right to hunt, fish and farm be cast in concrete in the constitution?

And if so, what about driving a car? Or gardening? Or playing basketball (this is Indiana, afterall)?

Do those kinds of things seem to reach to the level of a constitutional guarantee? And if they are, why weren’t they included by our supposed wise founding fathers when the constitution was written at a time Indiana was an agrarian state?

Should we rank hunting, fishing and the commercial production of meat and grain among the pantheon of the inalienable?

Joint Resolution 7 calls for a constitutional guarantee to “a right to hunt, fish, harvest game or engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry or dairy products.” The amendment would acknowledge that those rights should be considered “a valued part of our heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good…”

And what happens when a hunter or fisherman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to engage in their inalienable avocation gets crossways with my “No Trespassing” sign posted as my right to privacy in the wilderness?

“You’re trespassing on private property,” might say I. “The constitution says you can’t stop me,” says trespassing hunter/fisherman. And perhaps that’s where our collective 2nd amendment rights get invoked.

But maybe it would be valuable to recall the lesson of Prohibition, written into the U.S. Constitution, only to be yanked out again once the effort to impose particular social values wound up a failure. Until 1988, the Indiana Constitution prohibited the sale of lottery tickets. Today? Indiana is trying to figure out how to wring more money out of its state-sanctioned casino industry in order to fund the state budget.

The aim is to elevate privileges and personal views into rights and make them untouchable by future political law making convocations. Whether it is hunting, fishing, farming or marriage, it is unwise to freeze particular social, religious or political views into the constitution.

They do not work because society and social values change…sometimes rapidly. Given the past 50 years of experience, we have certainly witnessed such social changes. And to try to encase today’s hot button issues in the constitution is not healthy, wealthy or wise.