Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Inalienable Rights – Part 1: What are Inalienable Rights?

A Republic, such as we have in the United States, is a government that governs by the rule of law, the highest purpose of which is the protection of inalienable rights*. The laws are set by the people, by means of their representatives. Society must necessarily make laws that do the most good for the most people. However, those laws must not violate the inalienable rights of any person or they are not just.

So, what are inalienable rights? And how does one obtain them?

Inalienable rights are those rights that people have by virtue of being human and they cannot be rightfully given up or taken away. As developed by John Locke and used in the Declaration of Independence, inalienable rights are the direct result of human creation by God. Just as we gain rights to those things we create, God, as our Creator, has rights to us. Some rights have been granted to us, but some rights God retains. From our perspective, these rights that God retains are seen as inalienable rights. Such rights cannot be given up, taken away, or transferred by us because they do not belong to us, but to God.

Inalienable rights include:

·         The right to life (the most fundamental right)
·         The right to liberty, and
·         The right to own property (notice that this is not the right to use any particular property, but the right to own property in general).

These three are among the most basic inalienable rights. Other inalienable rights such as the right to bear arms, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of speech and religion are mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Note, however, that not all inalienable rights are listed in the Bill of Rights (nor was the document intended to be a comprehensive listing).

In order to better understand inalienable rights, it is helpful to contrast them with alienable rights.

Alienable rights are rights that can be transferred to another person or given up. For instance, the right to any particular property such as a car or house is an alienable right and can be transferred to another person or given up.

The implications of the inalienable rights concept are profound and far reaching. This concept provides logical rationale for many of our laws. For instance, the concept of inalienable rights means that I cannot rightfully kill another person (or even myself) because to do so would be destroying God’s property. Thus murder and suicide are both wrong and illegal. Similarly, I cannot rightfully enslave another person (taking away their liberty), nor can I sell myself into slavery. Thus slavery is illegal.

*Inalienable rights are also known as unalienable rights. See Part 5 of this series for more information.


In Part 2 of this series, I discuss the rationale for inalienable rights and explain why inalienable rights can only come from a Creator.

Questions for further discussion:

1.      List 3 alienable rights that you have. How do you know that they are alienable rights?

2.      Why is the right to life the most fundamental of the inalienable rights?

3.      Read the Declaration of Independence. According to this document, what is the purpose of government? What was the justification that the signers of the Declaration used in declaring their independence from Great Britain and forming their own government?

The Inalienable Rights Series
Part 1: What are Inalienable Rights?
Part 2: The Source of Inalienable Rights
Part 3: Liberty in Society and Government
Part 4: Government by Consent of the Governed
Part 5: Some Common Misconceptions

1 comment:

  1. Finding Independence in Dependence
    By Kenneth E. Kartman, Jr.

    The following words, “We hold these truths to be self evident,” found in our Declaration of Independence, bearing their full weight and meaning, contain the only requirement necessary for our nation to demand its freedom from any other, including freedom from our own self destructive, over-reaching governmental and human tendencies.

    However, if the balance of this statement, “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not self-evident, the very purpose of our Declaration thereby ceases to exist.

    It’s pure folly for anyone to think that our Constitution, which ensures our independence, does not support the self-evident truths that inspired the very declaration of that independence—a Declaration which demands our freedom from foreign and domestic bondage, yet, at the same time, admits our dependence upon our Creator.

    Nonetheless, even in spite of this folly and in spite of the painstaking effort that obviously went into the choice of words used in our Declaration, there are still those who believe that what we ultimately need is total freedom or license… meaning, not so much our independence from those with ideals that may slightly differ or even completely oppose our own, but, rather, independence from this “mythical thing” that those on the “fringe” (our founding fathers) have come to call “our Creator”.

    What this way of thinking fundamentally fails to consider is that freedom associated with independence always comes with responsibilities attached, and that those responsibilities once carried out, or not carried out, always result in consequences. As a result, depending upon whether we’re responsible in our freedom or not, the inevitable consequences that follow may or may not enable us the ability to achieve the happiness that is unquestionably within our right to pursue.

    One way or another, regardless of whether we choose to like it or not, we have been, are presently, and will forever into our future be reminded of our accountability (as it relates to independence) by the consequences of that which we do in our freedom.

    Therefore, it is the consequences, born of truth, of the Law, and of Divine justice that ultimately define both our freedom and the success of our independence, not the misinformed notion that if we deny our Creator it allows us even more life, liberty and opportunity than originally endowed.

    It’s been said that, “Man’s total liberty is always anarchy, and anarchy is the death of both law and liberty.” And to that end, I’d have to agree. The consequences of doing as we’d like will never be the same as those of doing as we ought.

    There can only be one true answer as to whether or not there is a Creator. We, at this time, must either show allegiance to our Charter (our Declaration of Independence) and side with its authors in the belief of a Divine Creation, or choose to reject the idea altogether. Keep in mind, however, that if we reject the idea of a Creator, we must then reject our Charter; the very foundation upon which our nation was built. We cannot have it both ways, for that of course would be to obtain freedom without cost or consequence. In other words, that would be pure folly. And with that, in our “infinite wisdom,” we will have become the very fools that we’ve professed ourselves not to be.