Natural vs. Civil Rights

Natural Rights are not the same as civil rights.  This is another crucial distinction that is essential to understanding the principles of liberty.   Natural Rights are a part of Natural Law and, therefore, come from our Creator.  But civil rights are a part of human law and are created by man.  Thus, they are not and can never be equivalent.

We need to start this post by defining a Natural Right.  Fortunately, I have already written a post in which I derive and explain the definition of a Natural Right.  If you have not already read Defining Natural Rights, you should do so now, before continuing with the remainder of this post.  This post was written with the assumption that you have been following my explanation of natural rights from the beginning, so, if you have not read my post on the definition of a Natural Right, it is unlikely you will be able to fully understand the discussion that follows.

Now, we need to define a civil right.  As always, we start by looking at the definition of civil:

Definition of CIVIL

1a : of or relating to citizens

b : of or relating to the state or its citizenry <civil strife>

2a : civilized <civil society>

3a : of, relating to, or based on civil law

b : relating to private rights and to remedies sought by action or suit distinct from criminal proceedings

c : established by law

 As you can see, civil pertains to matters of society: of the citizens of a given government.  In other words, Parties to the Social Contract which formed and govern a given community.  Therefore, a civil right is a right that is established by law as a function of the terms of a given Social Contract and not by Nature.  However, a civil right must be enacted in accordance with the constraints of Natural Law, as Natural Law governs the Social Contract from which all civil law draws its authority.  If a civil law attempts to create a right that would be a breach of Natural Rights, then it is not a law or a right because it violates Natural Law.  In essence, Natural Law can nullify man-made laws, and this includes civil rights.  So, as a general rule of thumb, we can define a civil right as a right constructed by a law enacted according to the terms of the Social Contract which formed and governs a community and which is in accord with the constraints of Natural law.  Some examples of a civil right would be the right to a speedy trial; to face your accuser; to a jury trial; to a lawyer; to call witnesses and present a defense; and, if you are convicted, to an appeal.

NOTE: Because a civil law is created by an act of legislation under the terms of the Social Contract which authorizes and supports whatever government passes the law creating it, a civil law is always subject to being changed or eliminated whereas a Natural Right can never be abridged or eliminated.

IMPORTANT: there are two other types of rights that are commonly confused with Natural and Civil Rights, and they are “human rights” and entitlements.  Ignorance of the distinction between Natural and Civil rights often opens the doors to those who would deceive to abuse these additional terms for the purpose of subverting Natural Law.  If we are to defend against such attempts to trample our individual rights and liberties, we must understand where and how “human rights” and entitlements fit into the distinction between Natural Rights and Civil Rights.

First, a human right is a Natural Right.  Because all humans have certain inalienable rights simply because they exist, how could this be otherwise?  Once again, I would direct you to my posts, Free Will: the First Principle of Natural Law and Defining Natural Rights. The threat here comes when someone tries to claim that human rights are something more; that they encompass things that – by their very nature – place a demand on the free will of another individual.  Some things that are commonly claimed as “human rights” but which are not rights at all would be a claim to have a right to food; housing; employment and health care.  One has a Natural Right to pursue these things, but not a right to be guaranteed these things.  Nor can one have a civil right to these things.  In both cases, claiming these things as a right would require that others provide something for you, which is a claim on their free will and, thus, a violation of Natural Rights and Natural Law.

The next thing that is often confused as a right is even more difficult to define because – under some circumstances — they are equivalent to a civil right, and these are entitlements.  Look at the definition of an entitlement:

Definition of ENTITLEMENT

1a : the state or condition of being entitled : right

b : a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract

2: a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program

3: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges

 If one is due something according to the terms of a private contract; or the terms of a Social Contract set up and functioning within the constraints of Natural Law; or as a civil right duly passed by the terms of such a Social Contract; then that “entitlement” is actually a civil right.  It is legally due to that person as a function of that person’s Natural Right to contract.  However, if someone claims an entitlement that is outside the authority of the Social Contract, or which violates Natural law, then that which is claimed as an entitlement is neither an entitlement nor a civil right.  In other words, just because someone claims something is so doesn’t make it so.  It must meet the requirements of Natural Law, which is why it is essential that those who would protect and preserve individual rights and liberty understand the distinctions discussed in this post.

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