By: George William
Here in the United Sates, there is a philosophy we take very seriously. That is the philosophy of natural rights and natural law. We do have a very serious problem however, and that is most Americans don’t know what any of this means. If you were to take most people and ask them where their rights come from, the most common answers you’d get are, “They are given to us by the Constitution.” or “We have unalienable rights given to us by our creator.” Both of those are in one way or another wrong. Though, before we can constructively discuss this topic, we must define our terms first.
Merriam-Webster defines the following terms as such; natural law: a body of law or a specific principle held to be derived from nature and binding upon human society in the absence of or in addition to positive law
natural right: a right considered to be conferred by natural law
right: something to which one has a just claim: such as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled voting rights his right to decide b(1): the interest that one has in a piece of property —often used in plural mineral rights (2)rights plural: the property interest possessed under law or custom and agreement in an intangible thing especially of a literary and artistic nature film rights of the novel
natural: existing in nature and not made or caused by people
The problem with the first answer (mentioned above) is that if these rights are given to us by the Constitution and therefore the government, then the government can take them away at any point. Here are two examples, your drivers license and Kinder surprise eggs. Since you don’t have a right to either, the government can take them away when it so chooses. To elaborate, currently the law in most places is that if you have a certain number of driving violations or if you’ve committed certain heinous violations you get your license taken away as a consequence. Seems fair, you’ve demonstrated that on the road you are a harm to others and yourself. That could be changed, since you don’t have a right to drive, the government gives you the privilege to do so, that also means that for any reason, the government can pass a law that takes that away for the smallest of infractions or for none at all.
Here is where the example of the Kinder surprise egg comes in. It is banned in the US because of two reasons. 1) A law passed in 1938 that has nothing to do with Kinder and 2) the perceived threat that it might impose on children. Inside the chocolate egg there is a toy inside that a child could choke on and a few have over the years and sadly perished. But it wasn’t because they were eating the egg. If one were to just plainly eat the chocolate egg, it would be impossible to choke on the toy inside because it is in a big plastic casing. So, the government has banned something because of the perceived threat of it. Not for any real threat. The same could apply to anything else, including ones rights if they are granted by the government alone.
The second answer (mentioned above) is more on the right track but these days is often wrong because of ones contradictory beliefs. It’s no secret that the world has been becoming more and more atheistic. Even those who proclaim themselves “Christian” have more and more unbiblical views. How can you have unalienable rights that are given to you by your creator if you don’t believe there is one? Along this vein you have people such as Evolutionary Biologist Bret Weinstein, his brother Eric and Humanist Sam Harris who will argue that it is because of evolution that we have developed these ideas of right and wrong, morals, rights and so forth because we learned that it was better for ourselves to cooperate to combat nature than to be self serving. The issue with that is then why does the most cooperative and seemingly less self serving governmental system in the world, communism, always lead to ruin? Is it because we are not evolved enough? I would argue such an answer is foolish. The true reasoning is that there is underlying, natural truths that are being ignored. Those truths being 1) there is a God 2) He has given to us his law in the form of natural revelation and special revelation 3) when following that law, it leads to good.
So, there is a God, and he has endowed us with these rights. Where does it say that though? The bible doesn’t come out and say things such as, you have the right to bear arms, or peaceful assembly. This is true, but there are things we can glean from scripture that aren’t out rightly stated, for example, Arminianism and Calvinism, “Trinity”. This is another one of those things.
For this part, I will be referencing the second to last chapter in the book Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe.
Right to life- “Thou shalt not kill”. (Exodus 20:13) The thing about what makes natural rights natural is that they are detached from society and therefore apply to us through all time. How you have a right to life is that such is your existence until it’s natural end. It has a start point, conception, and an end point, determined by God. Such is a natural course. Thereby, any action taken that deliberately may inhibit this natural course, such as murder, is an infringement on one’s right to keep living.
Liberty- How people often understand the right to liberty, understand it to mean being able to do what one wants. To consume porn and drugs, get divorced several times, and so forth. The biblical example of liberty and what the founders based the right to liberty off of can be summed up in these two verses. Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7. It’s not about being able to do whatever you want with your life because it’s your life, but to be able to live your life free of a human master. In other words, not be a slave.
Property Rights- The first and strongest case for property rights is in the commandment “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). What this commandment establishes is that 1) there is property 2) it is owned by a party that is not yourself 3) it is just or right for them to have it and unjust or an infringement on that right to take it improperly. Another thing that stands out about this is that it isn’t specific. The implied property isn’t meaning just land, (as that is what most people would think about when hearing property) but anything that is owned that is not yours. Land, house, food, a kids toy, all property that is owned by one party or another and therefore cannot be unjustly taken.
So, the next question is, what is the just and unjust exchange of property? Here we have two examples of what’s unjust and from there we can determine what would be just. Deuteronomy 19:14 says, “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set…” our second example is Proverbs 23:10 which states, “Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless…” both of these passages lay out that it is unjust to take property from the party that owns it without their consent. How these examples would look in modern times is that you have a house with a fenced in yard and so does your neighbor. One day he leaves for work and you connect the two fences while he is gone, tear down the one in the middle, effectively taking his property without his permission. That is an infringement on his property rights.
The Constitution strongly enforces the protection of these rights in the 5th and 14th amendments. the 5th most notably stating “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” I gave an example to my brother-in-law the other day to illustrate this exact thing. “Let’s say there was a hostage situation at the bank across the street that lasted several days and the best place for the police to be headquartered would be at your coffee shop. During all that time the shop is closed down. You would then lose money and business making it difficult to pay your loans, bills, and so forth. So, the government, since they took your property for public use, would then have to compensate you for that. A judge would determine what would be a just amount given your expenses, projected lost revenue, ect.”
All other rights can be derived from these three basic ones. The right to bear arms? That’s the right to life. Right to peacefully assemble? That’s the right to liberty. The right to be protected from warrantless and unreasonable searches and seizures? Property rights. The securing of these rights are necessary for a just government.
This year of 2022 is an election year. Many people in local offices and about half of the Federal government will be up for election this year. Most if not all of you who are reading this will be voting this year. I implore you, look into your rights, your government, the issues, how things are supposed to be ran and how things are ran and vote accordingly. If you won’t, please don’t vote. You’re just making uneducated decisions that effect the lives of those around you.