P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
Have you ever realized what a unique person you are? It takes an individual who has an unusual depth of understanding to see beyond the immediate circumstances and understand the broad picture, especially when that picture concerns the country as a whole. It is indeed a rare individual who takes up the cause with others after personally experiencing an infringement on the right to own and use private property.
Rarer still are those who take up the cause of private property rights when their rights have not been directly infringed.
In this difficult context, it is indeed inspiring to know so many people who are working for the future of private property rights in their community, their state, and our country.
By contrast, the vast majority of the people who contact the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., are narrowly concerned only about how they can get off the hook, how they can get the government off their backs. Even when they are confronted with the broader picture, they refuse to go further. They are even afraid to contact their representative. They adamantly want to forget that they ever ran into this issue.
Knowing human nature, this is not surprising. But think of the lost potential of unwillingly educated property owners who contact PRFA and let the opportunity to work together pass. A united front of all these people would make up a small army of fighters for private property rights, and that would indeed be a fearsome front against the enemies of our cause.
To join together, to work toward regaining our lost rights, that takes conviction, that takes a viewpoint that goes beyond the personal. This conviction and viewpoint can make a difference toward the future of our country.
Your participation in this work is valued greatly. You are the heart and soul of a movement that has the capacity to change the course of events and restore the rights that the Founders of our country assumed as a basis for our system of constitutional law. This legal system was designed to treat the freedom of the individual as paramount within a just and ordered society.
Compare these two expressions of American law, separated by 150 years:
U.S. Representative John Bingham, 1857:
U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 2003:
The first is a statement by U.S. Representative John Bingham of Ohio before Congress in 1857. Rep. Bingham was the principle author of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to extend the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states, which established constitutional protections to civil rights (the rights to the fruit of one's own labor, to make contracts, to buy and sell, and enjoy liberty and happiness) that were protected in the Civil Rights Act of 1871. His concept of private property was unchanged from that of the Framers of the Constitution. (This statement was cited in Grand Theft and Petit Larceny by Mark L. Pollot, Pacific Research Institute, 1991, along with a more thorough discussion of the points outlined here.)
The second quotation represents a complete contrast from the system of government expressed by the Rep. Bingham. The later quotation is from the majority decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens in Susette Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, justifying the condemnation of private homes in New London, Connecticut, to transfer the properties to private parties who expressed the intention to redevelop a neighborhood for a high-end hotel and commercial buildings. The properties are now an expanse of vacant, weedy land, a symbol of the diminishment of private property rights by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This decision to condemn private land for use by another private party as long as the municipality had a "plan," is by far not the worst deprivation of private property rights in the United States today, because in the Kelo situation at least the property was paid for, however inadequately, considering the suffering of the families who lost their homes; whereas countless other property owners have lost the use of their property because of government regulations that left them with a bare skeleton of ownership after wetlands, endangered species, zoning, and other restrictions.
The broad picture that we are concerned about is that today we are reaping the results of almost a century of progressive deterioration of private property rights. And, in spite of all our hard work together and many successes, the slide toward Socialism that was given full throttle during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration isn't abating,
At our property rights conference last year, William Perry Pendley, the President and Chief Legal Officer of Mountain States Legal Foundation, described their heroic litigation with brave plaintiffs to prevent the destruction of private property rights. One of the poignant moments was when he said that the Legal Foundation spent one quarter million dollars to defend John Shuller from a fine of $5,000 for shooting a grizzly bear in self-defense.
This remark seemed to me to put in a nutshell the extent of how far our fundamental rights have been diminished. The keynote by Mr. Pendley followed four hours after a definitive and moving overview of the history of American law pertaining to private property rights by Roger Pilon, J.D., Ph.D., the Vice President for Legal Affairs and Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Cato Institute. The history he so eloquently related was of a terrible downward erosion from the philosophy of the Founders and their English predecessors to the present day.
News about the state of private property rights faced by individuals today has become the daily fare at the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc. Men and women from across the country telephone and e-mail about intolerable, intractable situations: endangered species impositions, wetlands restrictions, local zoning, and rules of every imaginable nature related to building construction and maintenance. Many requests for help also arrive about policies that appear to be designed to diminish and destroy rural economies, such as closing roads, prohibiting motor vehicles, eliminating logging, acquiring land for the government to convert to new wilderness, and planning under federal auspices to preserve great swaths of land along major rivers.
People are being stopped from renting their land for wind turbine installations and cellular telephone towers. (Right here where I sit, cell service is unavailable because the state regional zoning agency, the Adirondack Park Agency, believes that visible cell towers interfere with the "wilderness experience.") Now that it is economically and technically feasible to extract gas from the Marcellus shale that stretches from the Appalachian states into New York, Ohio, and Lake Erie, the state environmental departments are getting involved to tighten up their rules, meaning, of course, to cut into the feasibility of this promising area of energy development.
One of the new themes is that individuals are telephoning PRFA again after several years to say that they should have taken the direction of practical information given initially, instead of going to great legal expense in the vain hope of negotiating their way through a government agency toward a virtually impossible goal. These "you told me so" calls are distressing. Sometimes it is indeed potentially worthwhile and the only hope to try to work one's way through a difficult agency, and, to this purpose, PRFA disseminates a great deal of information. But it is sad to see aggrieved property owners commit economic suicide because they are too frightened to think objectively or because the situation of government malevolence is far outside their realm of understanding.
The United States is hardly the country of my youth. In respect to private property rights it is often more like that described by the Eastern European refugees that I met as a young engineer in Manhattan in the 1960s. They would regale the other engineers with stories of dealing with bureaucrats who controlled life in places like Poland and East Germany. Today's stories of bureaucratic infringements on property rights under the zoning and environmental zealots here in the United States are much like the seemingly exaggerated tales told by those refugees.
At our Twelfth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights, which is approaching on October 18, we'll be facing the reality of the intractable, purposeless obstruction and expense experienced by property owners in the face of agencies that have the power to police private property rights. Our speakers will talk about "The Other Side of Zoning and Building Codes."
Our keynote speaker, Don Corace, a developer from Naples, Florida, spoke to me for the first time three years ago. He said that he would not forget his experience with agencies that forced him to waste a fortune in the course of pursuing his business, and that he would take up the cause of property rights. He has kept this promise.
Harper Collins has just published Don Corace's book Government Pirates: The Assault on Private Property Rights and How We Can Fight It. He has already given numerous broadcast interviews, including several on Sean Hannity's nationally syndicated radio talk show and on his program on The Fox Channel.
Randal O'Toole, a noted author and speaker on the fallacies of urban planning will travel from Oregon to speak on "Free Market Solutions to Urban Problems." The conference will also bring together expert speakers on several other important topics affecting property owners today, such as "No-growth Zoning," "The façade of New Urbanism and the Form-based Code," and how zoning laws impose a Fifth Amendment Taking by imposing conservation easements.
And, in keeping with our grassroots tradition, there will be plenty of time to question the speakers during the forum and meet them one-on-one. Effective grassroots leaders will also take the podium. I don't think that you can attend any other one-day event where you can garner more practical knowledge and perspective on how to promote private property rights.
The conference is the high point of PRFA's year and I hope that you can join us for this inspiring day.
In addition to inviting you to join us on October 18, I'd like to ask you to also keep in mind PRFA's real need for your financial support. Your individual contribution makes a big difference with this work. A great deal of the effort of PRFA is volunteered, meaning that your generosity goes a long way.
In keeping with our commitment to limited, constitutional government, we do not accept government grants. All of the funding for the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., is privately donated. In fact, donations are tax deductible as provided under the federal law, in accordance with the IRS recognition of 501(c)(3) status afforded PRFA.
Please express your devotion to the fundamental right to own and use private property by giving generously to the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc. With your help, we will begin the fall season with the potential to promote private property rights at an exciting level.
With my personal appreciation and best regards,
or from the Office of the Attorney General, Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10271.