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Where Do Our Rights Come From?

with 4 comments

     Here’s a multiple-choice question for you.  Where do our rights come from?

     a.  ourselves

     b.  the Constitution

     c.  courts

     d.  laws

     e.  God

     Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Indpendence believed that our rights come from God:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

     There is so much in that statement that it blows my mind.  You can love it or hate it, but what you cannot do is deny that our Founders believed in natural law and in inherent rights and, in some way or other, in God, the Creator.

     There are problems with all the other choices above.

     If my rights come by my own self-declaration, then I could claim the right to kill you.  Of course, you would claim the right not to be killed.  Where would that leave us?

     If our rights come from the Constitution, then we could amend the Constitution to do away with the right, for example,  of free speech.  The Constitution once recognized the right to own slaves; now it forbids slavery.  The same document that called both ownership of slaves and freedom from slavery a right, cannot be a stable and consistent source of rights.  It can only list rights that are recognized by people.

     The courts present the same problem.  It has happened in America that one judge or one court ruled in a particular manner, but then another court ruled in the opposite manner.  The courts are supposed to interpret laws and decide cases based on the Consitution, and it, as noted above, reflects the rights that people discover and recognize. 

     Laws can either reflect our rights or not.  Good legislators make sure that they do.  Ignorant or evil legislators might not do so.  Jim Crow laws certainly did not reflect people’s proper rights.  Neither did laws against women’s suffrage.

     God, or whatever you believe underlies our innate sense of being entitled to things as human beings, is the source of those rights.  Maybe you want to conceive of the source as the Tao or as Nature or Evolution or the Collective Unconscious or Je Ne Sais Quoi.  However, there must be an ultimate source.

     You can say that societies create rights for the people in them.  If that were true, you would arrive at a strange conclusion.  You would have to say that Jews had no right to life in Nazi Germany, but now they do have the right to life in post-Holocaust Germany.   I submit that Jewish people (and any other ethnic or religious group of people) always had and always will have the right to life.  The Nazis violated their rights, but they could never take away their rights.  If they could, then on what basis could we condemn the Nazis.

     You would also have to say that you wish that homosexuals would have the right someday to marry people of the same sex and that you hope that someday enough people will agree to make it a right in the entire United States.  That’s not what I usually hear, though.  I hear people saying that people have the right to marry whomever they choose, and that that right should be formally recognized by law.  And as long as there is no such legal recognition you would have to admit that people have no such right.

     You would make a mockery of Roe v Wade if you looked at rights that way.  You would have to say that nine men arbitrarily decided that women could go ahead and have abortions if they want to.  The way it really happened was that those men ruled that women have such a right, and the law cannot infringe upon it.  In other words, the supposed right to an aboriton was the basis for the ruling and not the other way around.  The ruling is not the basis for the right.


Written by ambrosianideas

August 14, 2010 at 6:37 am

Posted in Freedom, Rights