Privacy Rights of Individuals

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The Privacy Rights of Individuals

Privacy can be defined in many ways, depending on one’s perspective, including the right to be left alone, free from intrusion or disturbance in one’s private life. Although everyone agrees that this is an important right that should be protected by governmental laws, the extent of one’s right to privacy has often been a matter of debate in the court system of the United States. There is vast disagreement concerning how far the government should go to protect an individual’s right to privacy. The United States is a large melting pot of cultures, races and ideas, which often lead to a differing of opinions in term of what should be the norm due to ethical and moral difference between individuals. This paper will present court cases that deal with the privacy rights of individuals as they relate to the areas of homosexuality, drug testing, birth control and the right to die.

An individual’s right to sexual privacy, including homosexuality, is an issue that has been brought before the courts repeatedly. Bowers v. Hardwick is a landmark case fought in 1986 that tested the boundaries of sexual rights. Hardwick was charged with committing consensual sodomy in the privacy of his bedroom with another adult male. He had violated the Georgia statute that criminalized sodomy. Hardwick brought a suit in Federal District Court challenging the constitutionality of a law that criminalized a sexual act between consenting adults. The court held that the United States Constitution does not grant the fundamental right to homosexuals to commit sodomy, even in the privacy of their homes. They concluded that the Georgia statute was, in fact, constitutional. This decision was later reversed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stating that Hardwick’s homosexual practices were private and beyond the jurisdiction of the state. The Georgia statute was, therefore, unconstitutional and violated the fundamental rights granted by the Ninth Amendment and the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000) is a more recent case concerning homosexual privacy issues. Dale, an assistant scoutmaster in New Jersey, was fired when the Boy Scouts learned that he was a homosexual and gay rights advocate. The Boy Scouts organization asserted that homosexuality was inconsistent with the values that they represent. Dale filed a suit in New Jersey Superior Court, claiming that the state statute that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation was violated. After much deliberation, the court sided with the Boy Scouts insisting that the First Amendment guaranteed private organizations the right to define their mission and exclude members that significantly affect their ability to carry out their purpose. Although homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle, it is inconsistent with the values taught by the Boy Scouts of America. Therefore, the intrusion into a private group’s personal affairs by forcing it to accept members was ruled unconstitutional.

Drug testing is another issue that has been fiercely debated in the courts. With the increase of illegal drug use across the United States, many institutions have tried to institute a policy of random testing in order to combat the problem. Opponents of this policy claim that these random drug tests are an invasion of privacy rights and violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches. A group of parents challenged the Oklahoma school district’s policy of random drug testing in front of the Supreme Court. The school district established a policy of random urine tests for students who want to join the marching band, academic team or any competitive extracurricular activity (Biscupic, 2002). In previous cases, the court had ruled that general urine testing required a warrant or some evidence of drug use. However, in a school setting, there is a...
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