If people can define, grant and protect human rights, they also can redefine, constrain and/or eliminate them. If people can create equal living, learning, and economic environments, equal levels of human intelligence, athleticism, aptitude or any other quality, then people could redefine, alter, limit, or eliminate such classifications of equality.
However, if human rights are God-given, then human rights and equality of human beings pre-exist any manmade law. Human, civil, and legal rights would not be inherently subjectively based on personal preferences, feelings, or choices– which frequently change.
Yet if the responsibility, privilege and duty to self-govern were given to people by God, then neither the government nor the people could “do whatever they want.” Human rights are not human creations, therefore they cannot be taken away by people or leaders of any government.
Human rights, freedom, and liberty are given to and are not made by people. If people have not created rights they cannot take them away.
Constitutional provisions were then predicated on limited political authority subjected to oversight and responsible self-governance by the people. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to protect people from government overreach, even including a government chosen by a majority of people. Limits exist for both people and the government– to protect the self-evident truths the Founders identified.
Thomas Jefferson stated in 1799,
Free government is founded in jealousy, not confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind those we are obliged to trust with power…. In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
James Madison wrote in Federalist no. 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
The Founders knew at some point individuals, groups, and government leaders would attempt to limit or eliminate God-given inalienable rights. Even if a majority of people insisted that a particular policy be implemented, if the policy were unconstitutional it couldn’t be enacted or followed. Constitutional laws were predicated on unchanging principles to which all other laws must be subordinate.
Consider that the majority of German voters voted to bring Adolf Hitler to power. Germany’s constitution was legally changed and initially, gradual political and legal changes were implemented:
- Healthcare was nationalized;
- the purpose of education was completely redefined as was curriculum and teaching methodology;
- the police were militarized;
- speech, the press, and religion were controlled and censored; certain speech, books, movies, and aspects of higher learning were banned;
- controlled medical experiments on specific segments of the population became institutionalized; and
- punishment was legally exacted through fines, imprisonment or the death penalty.
Certain groups of people were legally targeted whose businesses were legally closed and whose private property was legally confiscated and given away against their will and without recompense. Those legally targeted were legally transported to a specific geographic area, prohibited from working or forced to work against their will, to later be imprisoned and eventually killed.
Nazi regulations were legally implemented and enforced. Their laws were also manmade predicated on manmade rights. German citizens and their rulers determined what right and wrong policies and who good and bad citizens were, as well as all of the subsequent implications and outcomes of these decisions.
In this way, human will, self-assertion, individual beliefs or feelings, and even simple selfishness for power or self-preservation defined human rights. Under German law, rights existed for certain citizens, not all citizens. And these rights changed.
According to the U.S. Constitution, human will, self-assertion, individual beliefs and feelings do not provide any basis for human, civil or legal rights. The Constitution specifically states rights are a gift. Rights are given and they are given by God. Rights are endowed by God, who the Constitution identifies as human beings’ Creator. The gifts of inalienable rights to life, liberty, and equality are given specifically as they relate to human nature.
The Constitution sustains the self-evident truth that rights are determined by what is given and by whom. Rights are not subjective or fluid. They are constant reminders that using them is a responsibility and privilege.
People can hold on to their gifts, hoard them, store them, hide them, give them away, trash them, lose them, or squander them. But those who safeguard and share them responsibly, exemplify the best traits of human authority that serves the greater good.
This article was first published on June 16, 2015