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Principle 11: There are some basic rights guaranteed to every person. No majority vote can ever take away these rights from the people, even if the majority is very large and the minority is very small.
Some basic rights are so important in a democracy that even a majority vote cannot take them away. Some of these are shown in the drawing. There is the right to meet in groups—even if the government does not like it. Another is the right to vote. Another is the right to seek happiness and another is called “free speech.” That means the newspaper can say what it wants to say—even if it is against the government. That is how it is in a democracy. Even if the majority voted and passed a law saying people with red hair could not vote—that would not be allowed, because voting is a basic right. They could say, “But we are the majority—we won’t let blue-eyed people meet in groups!” Yes, they would be a majority because there are more of them. But, because it is a democracy, basic rights can never be voted away. Getting to meet in groups is one of those basic rights. Usually the majority rules, but even a majority vote cannot take away the basic rights of the people.
But the smoothness did not last forever. About 5 weeks after the evening games had started again trouble sprang up. It was one of those kids who had voted against having Nadesh and Petra stay when they first arrived at Elena’s. It had seemed strange at the time that they hid in the corner, and were never very nice to either of them, especially Petra. It was one of them—the boy that seemed to be always looking for trouble. One day he did a mean thing, or at least Petra and several others thought so. All the day’s chores were done and evening games were about to start.
The one always looking for trouble strode forward and announced in a loud voice, “I say we don’t let the trash play in our games!” A few kids smiled like they were in on his mean secret, but all the others had no idea what he meant.
“What are you talking about?” someone asked.
“I’ll tell you what I’m talking about.” He was smiling, but it definitely was not a friendly smile. “I’m talking about letting that crippled girl play in our games—you know, rolling around in her wheel chair. I say we vote her out.” But he had even more meanness in him, because he was speaking again, “and while we are getting rid of trash let’s vote out that stupid boy with the real crooked teeth too!”
For a moment no one spoke. Most of them were angry with his words, but they were also afraid. He often pushed kids at mealtime or liked to trip the smaller kids when they were running on the playground. Yes, some of them were definitely afraid. Maybe they would be silent and go along with the mean plan he and his friends had cooked up. That way, maybe he wouldn’t hurt them.
But the next voice was Elena’s. How did she always know to show up at the right time? She looked right at the small group of kids who had cooked up the mean plan. “Democracy is supposed to benefit ALL of the people. And because some people are not good, a principle was created in democracy to take care of the trouble that bullies like to make.”
Some of the group who had been supporting the mean boy started to edge away from him. The rest of the kids were glad Elena knew of a democracy principle to handle this situation because they could feel it was wrong. She continued.
“Most things are determined by majority vote. But not everything can be done, or not done, by majority vote. For instance, it is not possible to exclude someone from the games because they have a physical disability. Even if it should pass a majority vote, it would not be allowed in a democracy. Nor can you exclude someone because they have an unusual appearance. That won’t be allowed in a democracy either.”
There was a silence, then someone called, “Elena, does that mean that there is no way we can vote people out of the games just because we don’t like them?”
“That is exactly what it means,” she said. “You see, in a democracy we value individual rights. Some rights are so special that we won’t let even a majority vote take those rights away from the people being picked on. This special group of rights is usually about not letting people get hurt in some way by others. The point is, even a majority vote can’t make it okay to hurt people who aren’t powerful enough to protect themselves.” Then she was quiet, and the kids noticed that she wiped a tear from her eye. She walked away, then paused and turned back to face the kids.
“I guess I can say it best like this: democracy tries hard to make sure the bullies don’t get to call the shots.” Then she started again toward the house and did not turn back to say anything else. As the kids turned back to look around at their own group they did not see the mean boy anywhere. He had slipped away when no one was looking. To be continued....
Activity: A simple illustration should make the point clear. Ask the class if it would be fair for them to vote to have one student per day be the teacher’s helper. They will ask what the duties would be, etc. Simple answers will be sufficient. “That person will pass out the spelling books; open the door for the others when we go to recess, etc.” They will then decide it is fair to make such a law. Now ask if it is fair or not to vote to bring (student name) (pick a popular student so feelings won’t be hurt) up front each morning and have all the other students come and beat him up! They will instinctively know it is wrong. Lead them to see that there might be a majority vote in both examples (teacher’s helper and beat up _______) but that still does not make it right. When a basic right is involved (in this case, the right not to be beaten up just to please someone) even having a majority like it does not make it law. Rights that are protected can never be voted away.