Alan Keyes
June 6, 2013
Wrongdoing--an unalienable right?
By Alan Keyes

[This is a comment and reply occasioned by my WND piece "On Rights and Righteousness".]

The Comment

I respect Keyes, I really do. He is so wrong here...

There are at least two meanings of the word "right." One means all that is morally correct to do; the other means all that I have been given the authority to do. When one looks at all that Christ told us is wrong, we realize that the "right to only do right" is incredibly limited, to the point that no man save the Creator has done it. If lust and hate are the same as adultery and murder, and the punishment for these was death, then how can we claim that we have the "right" to even feel or think for ourselves? Why do we call the 1st Amendment a "right" if it says that we can choose something other than God and blaspheme him? By this understanding, a government that only recognized our "rights" would be a theocracy of the worst kind.

We have the "right," as the Founders used the term, to do some wrong things. That isn't to say that we won't be held accountable for them, simply that God gave us the authority to do them and they don't fall under government's purpose. I have no right to murder, as that takes the "right to life" away from another. I DO have the right to do other sins, such as certain addictions, as long as these don't take the rights away from others. It is still wrong, I will still be judged for them, but I have the right to do them. As Jefferson put it, as long as it didn't "pick his pocket or break his leg," he said it wasn't a governmental issue.

What did Christ say we should do about evil in the world? He said we should be salt and light, we should train our children up in the way they should go, he recognized our right to defend ourselves from a direct threat of harm (Luke 22:36-38). He did NOT advocate the use of government to make people good (neither did the apostles). If we (Christians) were to actually do as commanded instead of trying to use force of arms against sinful people (as the Pharisees did), then we wouldn't be in this mess. We have lost our first love....

My reply

In your analysis of the word "right," you confuse things in a way America's founders did not, when they wrote the Constitution. Though we carelessly refer to First Amendment "rights," the Constitution actually speaks of the "freedom of speech and of the press," but the "right...peaceably to assemble." It speaks of "rights" in the Ninth Amendment, but uses the word "powers" in the Tenth Amendment.

Instead of imposing a false distinction on the Constitution, why not carefully think through the distinctions it actually makes. For example, by using the word "freedom" with respect to speech and the press, the Framers avoid the pitfall to which you refer (i.e., referring to wrongs as rights). Also by referring to the free exercise of religion, they allow a certain tolerance with respect to religious practices, without falsely denying the difference between that religion which is true to God, and therefore right, and that which is false.) Do you think this respect for truth was intentional or just accidental? By the same token, people tend to confuse the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, but if they gave careful thought to the distinction between "rights" in the one and "powers" in the other, they would gain great insight into the understanding of human sovereignty the Constitution implements. Sometimes, instead of using the Constitution to make a point, it's important first to consider what point is made by its actual wording.

You also fail to see the very practical reason for my concern about the right meaning of rights. My reasoning helps people to recognize the boundaries of the government's enforcement power, which is properly limited to the business of securing unalienable rights, as they are endowed by the Creator (not human free will). Though the Creator authorizes us to be free, He is precisely not the author of any given use of our freedom. If He were, the choice would not be ours but His. So though He permits us to use or abuse our freedom, He only authorizes uses that accord with His righteous provisions.

By confusing right and freedom, you actually open the door to the claim that unjust government is authorized by God. Why? Because superior power gives people the freedom to do as they please. If God authorizes them to do wrong, victorious conquerors who rule as unjust tyrants are correct when they claim the divine right to do so. But America's founders rejected the species of absolutism based on the understanding that, in and of itself, proven superior human power constitutes divine justice, and must therefore always be reverenced as law.

But if the standard of right is not power, there must be a difference between being free (i.e., powerful enough) to do something and having the right to do it.

According to America's principles, the standard of right is determined by the power of the Creator, not by any merely human power. Those principles further declare that His standard obliges government to confine its use of coercive power to that which is necessary for the security of individuals willing to take certain actions which the Creator encourages in all human beings, as such, and which He therefore authorizes as right for all humanity.

This standard of right allows us to distinguish the individual uses of freedom that government is obliged to protect, from the abuses of freedom government is obliged to curtail – mainly, as you suggest, those which, by endangering the unalienable rights (right usages) of others defy the authority of the ultimate sovereign of all; and to distinguish both the foregoing from exercises of freedom which may be tolerated for good reason, even when in some respect they fall short of the perfect standard of God's righteousness (which, as you say, only God can properly administer).

These days, the main point of resistance against the righteous basis of rights has to do with sexual freedom. Like the tares that Christ advises his disciples to leave to the disposition of the master of the house (Matthew 13:24-30), there are sexual practices best left to God's judgment, for mercy or for punishment. However, when those who engage in such practices falsely promote them under the name of "right," they ascribe to God (who is the author of right) what is in fact the consequence of their own will. They unjustly demand that people willing to exercise their freedom according to right, as God intends, abandon the rights of the natural family and/or purposely raise up children who will not be encouraged to respect the obligations that give rise to them. They abuse the powers of government, which are meant to secure rights, to force such people to deny or disparage that exercise of right whereby the Creator provides for the perpetuation of human nature, individually and on the whole.

Faced with such demands and abuses of power, people determined to exercise their rights are obliged to answer as Peter and the other apostles did: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). For obedience to God is service to true liberty. It is the substantive ground of proof for every just claim of right – for the validity of which, when all else fails, we may appeal to Him, as the Supreme Judge of the World, just as America's founders did.

See also: To secure rights, not wrongs

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at LoyalToLiberty.com and his commentary at WND.com and BarbWire.com.

© Alan Keyes

 

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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election — one featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism — when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)

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