What Is A Right? And What Does It Teach Us?

An acquaintance on Facebook who is trying to understand what rights are a little better, made this comment:

I feel most of the problems with government today could be prevented/solved(?) if we really, truly understood just what our “rights” are and from whence they come. I’m still trying to enhance my understanding of what a human right truly is…

I agree with his statement. Afterward, he asked for his friends to provide definitions of rights to help enlighten him. Here’s what I responded:

A human right is… “Something that all people can simultaneously claim without forcing someone else to serve their needs.” That’s the best definition I’ve ever heard, provided by Joel Skousen in this video, discussing fundamental rights:

Understanding what rights truly are is one of the things our Founders did so well. Equally important was their understanding of the purpose of government: to PROTECT these rights. This was clearly stated in one of our founding documents, 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…

Once you understand rights and the proper role of government, lots of questions become easier to answer when deciding what a government should or should not do. Joel Skousen gave some good examples in that video and I like the distinction he made between harming someone and violating their rights. That’s an important distinction to remember because freedom means you can do what you like, no matter how smart or stupid it may be, as long as you do not violate the rights of another. Along those lines, once the government takes on the role of protecting you from yourself, that is a dangerous line to cross. If the government can control your actions, even though you aren’t violating someone else’s rights, where do you draw the line? Who decides what’s good or bad for you if not yourself? Once that line is crossed, you’ve given permission to the government to control everyone else’s actions and now government has now become a violator of rights instead of a protector of them.

I know that some might read this and start thinking of all the implications and become worried that all the ills of society would flourish if government only protected rights and otherwise let people do as they wished. However, I’d like to remind you that the major difference between freedom and tyranny is that tyrannical governments attempt to mold the perfect society through force and freedom-protecting governments let society mold itself through voluntary actions. If the voluntary actions of the society get to the point that they tend to choose harm for themselves more often than good, then no amount of government force is going to stop that. People must be persuaded to do good and voluntarily choose to do so by their own free will. Have we forgotten the lessons of Alma 31:5?

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

In conclusion, I want to admonish anyone reading this to stand up for people’s rights, even when you don’t agree with them. They will respect you and may even stand up for your rights that they disagree with. Violating other’s rights in order to “protect” them from themselves will only lead to resentment and the likelihood of them violating your rights when they don’t agree with what you are doing. In short, freedom works! Don’t be afraid of freedom!

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