Government has a habit of stealing property

Published May 1, 2001

Over the past 20 to 30 years, private property owners in New Jersey have been intimidated and, in some cases, threatened by environmental extremists, usually with the blessings of Trenton and Washington.

Our parents and grandparents understood the connection between the ownership of property and the ability to have greater control over their lives. Abusive regulations have been put on the books under the cover of protecting the environment.

Many of these regulations interfere with the ability of individuals to control the use of their own land.

In several cases, the federal government has taken the land of some small property owners for which they were not fairly compensated. Many such incidents have been recorded but are too numerous to mention here.

In order to understand the importance of property rights, we have to look at where they originated.

The concept goes back to biblical times and was transmitted and transformed by Christian teaching. The Hebrew hostility to autocracy, even their own, was formed in Egypt.

When the priest Korach leads a revolt against Moses in the desert, Moses defends himself against charges of usurpation by saying, “I have not taken one ass from them, nor have I wronged any one of them” (Numbers 16:15).

Similarly, when the Israelites, once they are established in the land, call for a king, the prophet Samuel grants their wish, but warns them of the consequences: A king, he tells them, will not be like him. “Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken?”

Our Constitution also puts a high priority on private property rights. Yet the “in-your-face” attitude of extremist groups angers many people and is considered one of the major reasons for the growth of militia groups and other self-styled patriot organizations.

The present threat to private property ownership within our borders seems to follow the ideology of nations that forbid anyone but the state to own property.

I believe that many environmental regulations that address private property purposely are written to confuse, so that any interpretation the government desires can be applied and no clear defense can be mounted.

Environmental extremists can confiscate private property, leaving the owners a choice of saying nothing or jumping through unending hopes of vague regulations wrapped in miles of red tape.

So how did we get here and what can we do about it?

For starters, we vigorously must defend the Second Amendment, so that we will be able to defend the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Otherwise, we will all become subjects instead of citizens.

Jimmie L. Hollis is a Millville, New Jersey businessman.