Rights

This is not an endorsement of Ted Cruz. This is a critique of the following meme.

rights

There are three problems with this meme: semantic, historical, and logical.

Semantic: Like most internet memes this one is likely based on (at best) misunderstanding or (at worst) misrepresenting what the target is saying. Mr. Cruz most certainly means something different than what the meme, by itself, is suggesting. The difference comes in how we understand/use the term “Rights.” I am assuming that Mr. Cruz is referring to “unalienable rights,” rights which we have by virtue of being persons while the creators of the meme are assuming he is referring to “civil rights” or rights we have under the law. The classic theistic way of understanding the two is that people have unalienable rights by virtue of being persons and those rights are protected and expanded upon under our civil rights by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is a danger in conflating the two terms, as this meme does, but I will address that later.

Historical: The theistic position stated above (that we have unalienable rights which are then protected as civil rights by the Government) is precisely the view stated in 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, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

I don’t think the founders would disagree with Mr. Cruz. Our rights are from God (our Creator) and the role of the government is to secure these rights through just laws. This principle, along with prevailing political theory, was what formed the basis of our civil rights as defined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Logical: As I said before there is a danger in conflating “unalienable rights” with “civil rights” as this meme does. The implied counter-argument of the meme is that “our rights come from the Constitution (not from God).” But if that is referring to unalienable rights then you are in the uncomfortable position of saying that people did not have those rights before the writing of the Constitution or that people who live in other nations don’t also have those rights. It is a dangerous, and almost certainly an extreme minority opinion, that our unalienable rights are only the result of some social contract and could then be revoked if that social contract were revoked.

But if it is meant that our “civil rights” come from the Constitution then you have two options. The first would be to say that those civil rights do not derive from any unalienable rights. In that case you are in the same position as stated in the above paragraph and in disagreement with the Nation’s founders. The second would be to acknowledge that the civil rights of our Country are based on some set of unalienable rights which exist outside of the Constitution. That is, it acknowledges that there is some other Moral Law from which the Constitution derives its authority. In that case we could say, “Our rights come from outside the Constitution, and they are expanded on and protected by the just laws of the United States.” For Mr. Cruz, for the writers of the declaration, and for me, that “outside” is our Creator.

The challenge for non-theists is this: If you acknowledge unalienable rights, where are those rights derived from?

I’m not going to address this further here, but if you are serious about looking into this further I want to refer you to “Book 1” of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

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