One of the most fundamental things in this country is rights. Millions of protestors use them as a rallying cry, thousands of lawsuits are won by way of invoking them, we even have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution. Rights are everyone's favorite thing to talk about these days: women's rights, gay rights, Hispanic rights, millennial rights, and all the other hot topics of today. Rights are one of the most important things in today's world, and one of the most misunderstood.
The word rights is thrown around almost willy-nilly. If you attend any protest in the United States of America, you are almost certain to hear at least one person screaming about their rights. Two of the biggest topics today are women's rights and LGBT rights. But most people that talk about rights don't actually understand what they are or where they come from.
What are rights?
Our most familiar association with the word "rights" is from the most-quoted part of the Declaration of Independence: "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...." This phrase holds the key to the answers of both questions, what rights are, and where they come from.
Rights can also be referred to as the state of nature or freedom. This is the natural condition of man and his relationship with his Creator. According to John Locke, "The state of nature gives every man authority to execute punishment for violation of God's natural law." He also said, "Men are naturally in a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man."
Rights are natural liberties men are born with. They are also equal among all men.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal....
Furthermore God said, Let us make man in our image according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heaven, and over the beasts, and over all the earth, and over everything that creepeth and moveth on the earth.Thus God created the man in his image: in the image of God created he him: he created them male and female. --Genesis 1:26-27
All men are created equal and all power and jurisdiction is granted to each man equally by God. --John Locke
Rights are "endowed" to us. Not given, not provided, endowed. This word is closely related to the word "dowry." A dowry is a gift given from a father to his daughter at her marriage. Dowries were a permanent gift, transferred directly to the recipient, intended only for the recipient, and unable to be denied. Rights are indeed endowed upon us. They are our dowry.
Rights are also unalienable (or inalienable), a word most little kids stumble over and few understand. However, the Founding Fathers chose this word very carefully. It was related to the word "alienate," which was a legal term meant to describe transfer or sale of ownership of property. If an object was alienable, that meant it was able to be transferred. An object that is unalienable is unable to be sold or transferred.
This means that our rights are permanent gifts given to everyone equally at their creation, unable to be transferred, denied, sold, or taken. Come back next week to find out where our rights come from and why it's so important!
Many thanks to Congressman Barry Loudermilk for providing the resources used in this blog post and for instructing me about rights.