Government has only one legitimate function, to protect your right to live freely by using its monopoly on legal force to restrain and punish those who seek to harm you by use of force or fraud. Government does not grant rights. Your rights are natural, given to you by God. Where governments exist their only proper role is to exercise caution in protecting them.
But that monopoly on legal force is a tempting instrument to those who seek to control others. The United States' governments have used, and continue to use, that power to strip people of their liberties by using the law to classify others as unequal or less than human.
As an entity with the power to use legal force and tasked with representing all, governments have no right to discriminate. Nowhere has that abuse been more visible than in the racist policies of "Jim Crow" governments and two of their victims, Rosa Parks and Jack Johnson. That is why I am humbled to be part of two efforts by Congress to address the injustices of the past against Parks and Johnson, and remind Americans of government's tremendous threat to their liberty.
We all should know the story of how Parks challenged government-sanctioned discrimination by refusing to give up her Birmingham bus seat to a white passenger, inspiring others to challenge racist government policies. Parks was recently honored with her own statue in the United States Capitol, an honor extended to only two figures for each state.
My guest for the historic ceremony was Sherial Lawson, a Dayton resident and conservative activist.
Parks passed away in 2005 and happens to be buried in the same Michigan cemetery as my parents. While Parks lived to see her struggle end in victory, Jack Johnson did not.
Born and raised in Galveston Johnson seized boxing's World Heavyweight Champion in 1908. An instant financial success and global celebrity, Johnson was also a history-making pioneer. In an era of segregated titles, Johnson defeated a white man to become boxing's first black World Heavyweight Champion.
Johnson's skin color and refusal to accept society's racist expectations made him a target, publicly having relationships with white women. Vengeful federal prosecutors had Johnson convicted of transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, despite a lack of evidence any such incidents ever occurred. Not only would prosecutors have never sough a case against a white man in Johnson's situation, the law he was prosecuted under was not passed until after charges he was accused of took place.
Johnson and his white wife fled the United States and lived overseas, until Johnson relented and returned to serve his sentence. While in prison he invented a new form of wrench and was awarded a patent.
Johnson died in 1946 a black icon, but still wrongfully branded a felon.
That is why I have joined with other members of Congress, including Republican Rep. Peter King of New York and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to formally ask President Obama to grant Johnson a posthumous pardon. The effort to clear Johnson's name crosses racial and partisan lines because it is the right thing to do.
Whether it is government's history of slavery and racist policies, today's legalized abortions and indefinite detention of American citizens without charges or trial, or looming future injustices such as state-sponsored euthanasia and warrantless military drone strikes against citizens on domestic soil, government continues to betray its sole responsibility and instead harm those whose rights it should protect.
You and I have a duty to stop present abuse, acknowledge government's past injustices and remind Americans to vigilantly guard their liberties from government, so future Congresses will not have to make amends for a future Rosa Parks or Jack Johnson.