A Citizen’s Bill of Responsibilities

The Earth is in peril and as a result, we all need to play our part. As you know, survival means different things for each of us-whether it be finding food or providing water or making fire-but the thing that binds us together is our responsibility to protect life on this planet. It’s time for every citizen of earth to accept their responsibilities and agree upon what they can do before turning over their rights back into government control.

The “what are the basic responsibilities of citizens in society” is a bill that has been proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The bill will introduce a new set of responsibilities for citizens and how they must behave in order to maintain a healthy society.

While working on a side project lately that required me to consider what it meant to be a good citizen, I discovered to my dismay that my own understanding of citizenship was pretty unclear. I don’t recall hearing anything about it in school when I was younger. Sure, I believe I saw a cartoon on how a bill becomes a law and learned a little about American history and the many departments of government. But I don’t remember how such things were connected, or how a citizen was expected to interact with them — what it meant to not just live in this nation, but to contribute to it.

I also discovered that there were few contemporary materials on the topic of good citizenship. While civics seems to be an important aspect of everyone’s education, it appears to be something we’re merely meant to pick up as we grow older. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very frequently, and as a consequence, most people’s views of citizenship are just as fuzzy — or, to be more precise, just as incomplete — as mine.

My collection of ancient Boy Scout guides finally yielded some of the greatest thoughts on citizenship, which usually included a section on what it meant for young and elderly men equally to engage in a democracy.

A guidebook published in 1953 that was completely devoted to teaching the Citizenship Badge was very helpful (there was a whole series of short, separate books available at the time for each respective merit badge). The Citizenship handbook stated that “citizen” was another term for “member,” that every young man was a member of his town, state, and country, and that participation in these organizations, like membership in any other organization, was a two-way street with both rewards and responsibilities.

Today, citizenship is generally discussed in terms of rights: “I have the right to do this!” “I have the authority to do so!”

However, as the handbook warns out, these benefits come with responsibilities [emphasis mine]:

“A decent citizen must live according to a ‘Bill of Responsibilities,’ as well as a Bill of Rights.”

A Bill of Rights and Responsibilities You may not have considered the possibility, yet it is undeniably true. Membership in any organization gives some benefits, but only if each member follows the group’s rules, participates actively, and contributes to the group’s health and strength.

While the Bill of Rights establishes explicit rights, the Bill of Responsibilities establishes implied responsibilities. As a result, it’s easy to overlook the latter, which is often overshadowed by a singular concentration on the former.

The continuation of rights, however, is contingent on the execution of reciprocal duties. Only until people are able to rule themselves can democracy thrive. More and more regulations and laws must be passed to compel behavior and maintain order in the absence of such self-governance, in the absence of the collective willingness to live virtuously, participate intelligently in the public sphere, perpetuate the greatest good for the greatest number, and serve each other and our communities. Contrary to popular belief, freedom cannot exist without limits.

 

Rights vs responsibilities of citizens illustration.

As a result, democracy is a two-way street: individuals get certain rights, services, and protections from the government in exchange for contributing their money, time, expertise, and devotion to the upkeep of these benefits. Individual rights must always be balanced by individual duties; a healthy democracy cannot exist if individuals are primarily concerned with what they can gain rather than what they can offer.

So, I believe it’s helpful to take a break now and then to talk about the implicit obligations of citizenship in a more direct manner — to consider how we’re doing on our responsibilities. “The ‘Bill of Responsibilities,’ as the Scout guidebook puts it, is a type of civic yardstick.”

Below is an effort to lay out some of the duties that come with the rights guaranteed by our national, state, and municipal laws (including the Constitution, legislation, and court decisions); they may, of course, be expanded upon and vehemently contested.

1. The right to a fair trial./The obligation to volunteer to serve on a jury when summoned.

Businessman man in suit sitting in jury box illustration.

When you’re summoned to jury duty, it’s difficult not to grumble and complain. It’s an inconvenient part of your life, and it may also hurt your earnings. However, the traits that make jury duty particularly difficult — a regular job, owning a company, having children — are also indicators that you’re a committed community member and hence a worthy juror. When civically engaged persons strive to avoid their responsibilities, jury pools are reduced to those who aren’t “smart” enough to figure anything out, the jobless, and the elderly. This barely qualifies as a peer-reviewed jury.

If you were accused of a crime, you’d want a jury that was diverse and knowledgeable to hear your case; offer others the same opportunity by volunteering to serve when summoned.

2. The right to free (or government-funded) education. It is one’s job to make the most of one’s education.

I had never considered education to be a two-way street until I read the following in the Boy Scout Citizenship manual:

“As a citizen of the United States, you have the right to a free public education; nevertheless, you also have the duty to do all you can to maximize that educational opportunity in order to prepare yourself for a life of productive service to your fellow citizens.”

While we frequently believe that we have the right to snooze at school since it only affects us, if you’re attending a publicly supported college or taking out publicly financed loans to pay for your education, you’re snoozing on the taxpayers’ cost. Factory employees, physicians, teachers, and firemen put in 40-80 hours a week and forego a large portion of their income so you can play Fallout 4 and fail your biology class.

If you’re a student, repay your fellow citizens’ faith in you by making the most of your education and preparing yourself to leave school with the skills necessary to develop your community and nation.

 

3. The right to life and liberty protection, as well as the obligation to be ready to defend that right and the desire to serve if called upon.

Today, Americans have the benefit of being protected by a professional, all-volunteer military. However, if another large-scale catastrophe, such as previous global wars, arises, the conscription would be reinstated. Citizens are responsible for not just responding to such a summons while it is in effect, but also for being ever ready to service during times of peace. Citizens should prepare their bodies and minds as best they can for a summons to protect their nation. Every individual was envisioned by the Founders as a citizen-soldier.

4. The right to enjoy natural resources and the need to protect and safeguard public parks and places

Man cleaning up volunteering at park illustration.

Our national parks are some of our most valuable assets, and our local parks are some of our most valued getaways. Citizens are responsible for maintaining these wild and bucolic areas by adopting “leave no trace” principles, exercising fire safety, and keeping them clean and beautiful.

5. The entitlement to social aid and the need to be as self-sufficient as feasible.

The government’s aid programs are intended to assist folks who have exhausted all other avenues for assistance – as a safety net in case all else fails. Citizens must only use such programs if they are really in need, and they must make a good faith attempt to avoid getting into that situation in the first place, such as working when feasible, practicing financial prudence, and keeping healthy habits. No one will ever be completely self-sufficient, but working toward that goal ensures that benefits go to those who really need them, reduces the pressure on the system, and frees up funding for other essential programs, all of which contribute to the nation’s strength.

6. The right to utilize public libraries, roads, transit, parks, police/fire services, and other public services, as well as the obligation to pay the taxes that sustain them.

Nobody enjoys having to pay taxes. But almost all of us enjoy driving on paved roads all around town and across the nation, eating non-contaminated food, and reading reams of literature for free. Almost everyone wants to know that in an emergency, the police and fire departments will come to our rescue. All of these services, as well as many more, are funded by taxes. If you take anything from the pot, you must also put something back into it.

This isn’t to imply that people don’t have a right to say how they want to be taxed and how their money is spent. Every citizen, according to the Boy Scout handbook, has the obligation to “monitor whether these monies are used properly or not.”

It’s infuriating to watch how much government money is squandered and misused, but the solution is to vote for leaders and policies that will alter the system, not to stop paying taxes until personal standards are met. Otherwise, one’s perspective is analogous to someone justifying stealing a company’s services because they disagree with its business strategy; for example, slipping into a movie without paying because you believe the ticket prices are too high.

 

7. The right to free speech and protest./The need to provide educated viewpoints and constructive criticism, as well as to protect others’ right to free speech.

The right to free speech, as well as the associated rights to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, are among our most prized American liberties. We may say anything we want as long as we don’t damage others unjustly or instigate violence or treason. Citizenship Day commemorates:

“The government cannot censor our letters, burn our books, turn off our radio broadcasts, or otherwise restrict our freedom to free speech if we respect the rights of others.” There are no ‘thought police’ in America to regulate what we read or listen to… We have the freedom to congregate whenever and wherever we choose… Even when we criticize our government, we have the right to be protected by the police.”

While we have the freedom to speak almost anything, it does not imply we should; we also have a duty to provide well-informed and well-reasoned speech.

Citizens should understand how government operates so that they do not request that one of its branches make a change or take action that is outside of its authority. Citizens should also propose positive ideas rather than merely complaining, “avoid[ing] any criticism until he can suggest a change.” We must actively seek the change we want to see, putting our money where our mouth is and working via community organizations, churches, non-profits, and elections to change the landscape and solve inequalities.

At the same time, people should zealously defend the freedom of others to free expression, including those with whom they disagree. Too frequently, we applaud free speech when someone says something we agree with, only to toss it out the window when they say something that offends our sensibilities. However, the right to free speech can only be safeguarded if it is applied equally to all utterances, even those that the majority finds repulsive. The government, like its citizens, should not be acting as thought police.

Finally, the freedom to speak freely is accompanied with the need to listen carefully. “Keeping an open mind, attempting to comprehend [others’] opinions, considering the minority position on a topic, and working with the majority opinion, once it is adopted,” the Citizenship handbook says.

8. The right to legal equality./The need to advocate for others’ equal rights and opportunities.

A decent citizen is not just concerned about his own access to equal opportunities and legal protection; he is also concerned about the infringement and violation of these rights for others. This is true not just of the right to free expression, but also of other rights such as the right to freedom of religion; if you wish to worship as you choose, you must also support the right of others to worship as they see appropriate.

 

A good citizen, according to the guidebook, wants everyone to have the same constitutional rights as him and “stands for equal rights to chances for all, for fair play regardless of anyone’s ethnicity, religion, country, social status, or means of making a livelihood.”

9. The right to keep and bear arms./The obligation to learn how to use your weapon safely and effectively.

The Second Amendment protects Americans’ freedom to own one of the most lethal weapons on the planet – a weapon capable of killing another person. With great power comes great responsibility, and individuals who choose to exercise their right to carry weapons must also become proficient in the safe and effective use of their guns.

10. The right to vote./The need to be well-informed about candidates, topics, and political parties.

Man looking on phone voting putting ballot into box illustration.

While there are no longer any explicit hurdles to voting (apart from age), there should still be an implicit barrier: understanding of what one is voting for. Knowledge that goes beyond headlines and soundbites to include a thorough grasp of all sides of an issue, as well as the viewpoints, policies, and personalities of political candidates.

The mere act of voting is generally considered as the pinnacle of citizenship; nevertheless, voting in ignorance is no better — in fact, it is often worse — than not voting at all. “Be a thoughtful citizen, not an unthinking citizen,” the Scout guidebook advises.

11. The right to publish anything that isn’t sedition or slander./The need to filter and analyze material that has been published.

Just as Americans have the freedom to speak virtually whatever they want, we also have the freedom to write nearly anything we want on paper (physical or digital). Individuals and media firms may publish their views, opinions, and reports without government intervention thanks to press freedom. Readers of these media, on the other hand, have a duty to assess the authenticity and correctness of the information given, pointing out mistakes and refusing to assist those who spread falsehoods and disinformation.

The obligation to vet and filter information has become more crucial than ever in the digital era, when everyone and everyone may suddenly become a “publisher” and exercise the freedom of the “press.”

12. The obligation to contribute to such happiness by living virtuously to the right to happiness.  

The Declaration of Independence declares “the pursuit of happiness” to be an unalienable right, which everyone adores. Few people, however, are aware of the Founders’ definition of happiness. It wasn’t just a pleasant sensation; rather, they saw happiness in the same way that the ancient Greeks did: as ethical greatness.

The Founders thought that the republican experiment they were embarking on would succeed only if its inhabitants lived lives of industry, honor, frugality, humility, and fairness. Citizens needed to live well if they wanted to enjoy their rights; private pleasure, or virtue, led to public excellence — an environment in which people had the liberty, protection, and structure they needed to genuinely thrive.

 

13. The right of elected authorities to provide effective, knowledgeable, and fair representation./ The obligation to be an active, involved, and well-informed citizen.

Everyone wants to live in a government that is fair, honest, effective, and efficient. Few, however, desire the responsibility of assisting in the formation of such decent government. They seek moral leaders yet live ethically ambiguous lifestyles. They want to be heard, but they aren’t willing to listen. They don’t want to serve, but they want to be served. They desire to take rather than give.

They are baffled as to why the administration seems to be so ineffective… People, on the other hand, always get the leaders they deserve.

There is no protection without participation, no liberty without limitation, and no freedom without responsibility.

Citizens must completely live up to their obligations if they want to fully enjoy their rights.

 

 

The “what are the 4 responsibilities of citizens?” is a question that people have been asking for a while. The answer to this question is not very clear and there are many different answers. This article will list the four responsibilities of citizens that are most common in modern society.

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