What are Natural Rights?

Jan Hill

Natural rights may be described as legal principles that are derived from human nature rather than legislative or judicial action. Under this definition, natural rights include human rights, civil rights, and moral rights.

Natural rights usually refer to intrinsic human rights and other legal principles based on human nature.
Natural rights usually refer to intrinsic human rights and other legal principles based on human nature.

There is a presumption in society that law exists to prevent anarchy. On one side we have the law, and on the opposite side, there is what is generally assumed to be disorder and chaos. Laws are in place to protect people's legal rights, but these laws sometimes are challenged or overthrown if they fail to protect the natural rights of the individual. The protection of civil, moral, and human rights depends on society, but also often requires human effort for enforcement.

Worldwide organizations exist to eliminate discrimination based upon age or ethnicity.
Worldwide organizations exist to eliminate discrimination based upon age or ethnicity.

Issues of freedom and the relationship between local, state, and federal laws and people's lives affect many areas of the world. Law frequently falls under scrutiny because it sometimes maintains oppressive social conditions while at the same time seeks to free people from oppression. Proponents of natural rights might consider the conditions in prisons to violate the natural rights of prisoners, while regulations which call for only the basic human rights of nutrition, sanitation, and housing are typically followed.

When people gather and demonstrate for civil rights, there are sometimes local laws in force that prevent picketing and demonstrating without a permit. In such situations, the rights of individuals to protest against unfair treatment might be suppressed by their obligation to obey government authority. At such times, human freedom may sometimes be declared to be the higher law to justify non-compliance with law enforcement, but this may not always be the case.

Those who seek to protect natural rights often cite a moral basis to support their way of thinking. In the abortion debate, pro-choice advocates typically support the rights of the pregnant woman, while pro-life supporters are concerned with the rights of the unborn child. Both groups support human rights, but may come at the issue from different viewpoints.

Laws which empower government officials to stop and interrogate individuals about their citizenship can be seen as racial profiling, which may violate the natural rights of an individual. Such a law may also be viewed as protecting legal citizens by upholding a country's immigration standards. It can be difficult to determine whose rights should prevail--those of a person submitted to a possibly unfair search, or those of legal citizens who want the government to enforce the law.

Worldwide organizations exist to protect the natural rights of all people. These organizations may try to eliminate discrimination based upon sex, age, or ethnicity. They typically support political freedom and sometimes work to protect people from inhumane treatment during times of war. Many such organizations choose to focus upon the natural rights of human beings, expose human rights violations, and hold offenders accountable.

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Discussion Comments


"There is a presumption in society that law exists to prevent anarchy." What is this statement based on? I like the next few statements better. Laws exist to protect the rights of people. One kind of law prevents people from taking rights away from other people. (Like laws against theft, murder, etc.) Another type of law prevents the government from taking rights away from people (Like our Bill of Rights).

Anarchy is always short lived and someone or some group of people always assume positions of leadership one way or another naturally. It's not that law prevents anarchy, it's that anarchy, because of human nature, cannot exist long and always gives way to some type of power structure. (As in "Lord of the Flies.")

So what exactly are the natural rights? Where do we get them from, and how do we know what they are? For example, we know that it is correct that no person has the right to take another man's life except in self defense. How do we know that a woman has the right to take the life of her unborn child? There is nothing in natural law that makes this a self-evident right.

The arguments on the two sides of the abortion issue are not equally supported by natural law. The argument by the pro-choice side based on rights is just obfuscation and a failure to acknowledge natural law because of personal desires and opinions. (And in the case of abortion providers it's about the almighty dollar, not rights. But they'll use whatever argument they can to make a buck.)

I've always wondered about the "self-evident" rights in our Constitution. Self evident how? To whom? How do they arrive at their conclusions? Where did they get their final list of rights? How do we know they are from God? What is in natural law that points us to these rights? Can you tell us more about that?

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