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Do Politicians Create Rights?

“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…”
-Declaration of Independence

It is not unusual during election cycles to hear politicians making bold declarations of all the rights they think people should have. We hear that students have the right to a good education; the sick have the right to affordable healthcare; the unemployed have the right to a good job, etc. Now while all of these ideas are laudable, we must be vigilant to guard against the flippant usage of the word “rights.”

In his book, 40 Days Toward a More Godly Government, Neil Mammon helps us understand the difference between “rights” and “goods” and why this difference matters. If a right depends upon the labor, money or service of someone else, it’s not a “right” but a “good.” These are not the God-given unalienable rights our civil servants are sworn to protect.

For instance, the right to bear arms does not mean that the government has the right to provide you with a gun. The right to free speech does not mean every citizen has the right to a government sponsored cell phone. The right to own a home or to purchase health insurance does not presuppose the government’s responsibility to get it for you. Why? Mammon explains:

“Goods that are granted as rights require you to enslave or indenture some men fiscally or physically to ensure a continuous supply of the goods that you have promised other men.”

When we turn “goods” into “rights” we end up with tyranny. Socialist and Communist forms of government do this all the time and the result has always been economic failure and the loss of true liberty.

Christianity has always understood justice as equal opportunity under the law, not a promise of equal outcomes. Some will embrace their God-given freedoms and use the gifts and talents they have received to lead fruitful lives. Others, with those same rights and gifts, will squander similar opportunities through poor stewardship.

While we have a God-given right to enjoy our own goods, we have no right to enjoy the labors of someone else’s freedom and initiative. When government makes this a right, they steal from their citizens in the name of social justice. When every citizen has the government created “right” to own a home (e.g. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae sub-prime loans) and every citizen has the right to government sponsored health care (e.g. Obamacare) the government’s noble intentions end in tragic fiscal failure and the trampling of religious liberty.

This is why true social justice always begins by respecting the unalienable rights of others.

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  1. Paul Rothbard
    July 22nd, 2012 at 13:29 | #1

    Well said. These are all negative rights that others are not forced to act on. The only exception would be where we have given government a monopoly like in the court system. Therefore the right to councel or a speedy trial would be a necessary positive right that could cost a third party.

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