Is Sunshine Really a Human Right? California Says Yes

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This article is part of series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

During her Liberty Minute titled “Let the Sun Shine,” Helen Krieble mentioned the conflicts which ensue when the government declares new rights favoring one group of people over another.

In California, the solar energy lobby is so powerful that the legislature passed a law making direct sunshine a legal human right to which all citizens are entitled. That sounds nice, since we all like sunshine, but does that give one the right to sue his neighbor for letting a tree grow or for adding a home addition that might create shade? It does in California, and such lawsuits are now common.

Citizens there should look through the lens of liberty and read the Constitution. The genius of America’s founding documents is that they spell out exactly what rights citizens are entitled to and what powers the government has. I love sunshine and I love trees, but those are not rights under the Constitution and we certainly don’t need the state to decide who needs sun and who needs shade.

By declaring this new right, California is picking and choosing winners and losers. Those who want direct sunshine are the winners; those who want shade or the privacy provided by trees are the losers.

When laws such as this one are passed which announce new rights without basis in any logical thinking or historical background, people end up being sued for infringing on others’ absurd rights.

With every right comes a corresponding duty of others to avoid infringing on that right. By proclaiming this right to sunshine, the state of California is imposing on citizens the duty of avoiding casting a shadow on their neighbor’s property. It is telling those who like direct sunlight that they can have as much of it as they desire and simultaneously telling those who prefer shade or privacy that they cannot have any of it, if by having it they violate their neighbor’s right to sunshine.

Granted, some rights, such as those found in the Bill of Rights, are necessary and advantageous because the benefits which they grant to the individual far outweigh the duty imposed on others.

Before government officials succumb to political pressure and declare more rights, they should seriously consider whether doing so is worth the duties they will burden everyone with.


Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.