This subject matter has been floating around in my head for a number of months, way before COVID-19 found its way into our lives. It got there mainly due to hearing people on television and radio declare that they had a right to have something they wanted or that they had a right to do something they wanted to do.  When hearing these declarations my mind would often shoot back a silent response of “no you don’t”. So, this silent mental debate set me to consider exactly what rights have been given to us as created beings, both Spiritual and otherwise. 

The search engine on my computer rendered up a general definition of a right as “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way”. That’s not bad as a starting point, but I wanted to think through (1) what rights God has given us as His redeemed creation; (2) what rights are natural God-given rights; and (3) what rights may have been afforded us as citizens as a result of some regulation or legislation enacted by a certain level of government. As a last overview we will consider those supposed rights claimed by people which are not rights and the reasons why.

But let us start with what I will call the rights found in the Bible or Spiritual rights. That is the true beginning. These are some that come to mind easily and should be readily acknowledged. There is no exclusivity found in any of these. We simply have to exercise our rights as believers to receive what God is offering.

God has given us the right to accept His gift of salvation. Romans 10:9 - That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (KJV) 

God has given us the right to become the children of God. John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (NKJV) 

God has given us the right to boldly approach His throne in prayer. Hebrews 4:16 - Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (KJV)

God has granted us the right to eternal life. 1 John 5:13 - These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (KJV)

            We have the right to rely on God’s promises and that covers a lot of ground2 Corinthians 1:20 - For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore, also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. (NAS)

I am not saying this is a comprehensive list. If you can add to this list, get out your pen and please do so. There are also Biblical commandments that we must follow, but these are obligatory rather than a right. I believe it is pushing a point to say that we have the right not to murder someone or that we have the right to love our neighbor. Conversely, there is a point to be made that we have the right to expect that someone will not murder us and that our neighbor will love us. However, that “right” depends on someone else following these commandments. Individually, we can only follow the commandments of God and not deprive another of his “right”.

If we stopped the discussion of our rights at this point, what has been enumerated is unfathomable.  We are talking about the right to appropriate what has been granted to us by the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. While much of this is discussed everyday by Christians the world over as simply understood and accepted, the concepts should be astounding to us that God Himself consents to be involved with us and allows us the privilege to access His Grace, Mercy and Power if we only accept Him. We are the entirety of what we are because of God and we are nothing of value without Him. Oh God, keep us ever mindful of this!

In addition to the mind-staggering Spiritual rights that God has given to us, there exists a mostly uniform agreement that God has also bestowed on us the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the informed opinion of the Declaration of Independence these rights have been given to all people by the Creator, are unalienable rights and cannot be taken away by government.  Unalienable is defined as something which cannot be taken away from or given away by the person who possesses the right. Furthermore, the government is supposed to protect these rights.

When the framers of the Constitution of the United States originally wrote that document, they failed to enumerate many of the individual rights that citizens had begun to rely on. Having fought to ensure these rights, many were not willing to simply accept the Constitution without them.  States agreed to ratify the Constitution only when the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were agreed to be added. Furthermore, the Constitution was written with the understanding that whatever rights the government has is given to them by the people, the citizens.  From that has come the often-repeated phrase “the Consent of the Governed”.

Most people can quickly click off Amendment 1 as the right to free speech and Amendment 2 as the right to bear arms.  However, Amendment 1 has so much more that is equally important. The first right mentioned in Amendment 1 is that of freedom of religion; the second right in Amendment 1 is that of freedom of speech followed by freedom of the press, the right of people to peacefully assemble and ends with the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Then comes Amendment II guaranteeing the people the right to keep and bear arms.

I will not list out all ten of the Amendments, but I do encourage you to keep a small copy of the Constitution in your home. Of course, the internet is available to almost everyone. Look them up and read them. I will also refer to other amendments in this section of the article. One thing you will not find in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights is a Postscript or notation at the bottom which says that these rights are nullified in the event of (fill in the blank). It is not there. Remember that word “unalienable”?  They cannot be taken away for any reason.

Something recently happened and is still happening which should be of utmost concern for every citizen of the United States. The corona virus, COVID-19, came along and certain levels of government within the US forgot the Bill of Rights. In certain states and localities people were told they could not go to church. This is a direct violation of two sections of Amendment 1 – freedom of the exercise of religion and the right of people to peacefully assemble. 

Citizens were told they could not buy arms which is a direct violation of Amendment II. Amendment III says people should be secure in their homes.  A pastor conducting a Bible study in his yard for 10 people who were “properly distancing” was confronted by police and told that unless everyone left immediately, they would all be arrested. Again, that violates the same two sections of Amendment I as well as Amendment III. The police came on his property without a search warrant and issued an illegal demand. Pastors were arrested in more than one state for holding church services and congregants who were sitting in their own cars were issued orders that they had to quarantine for 14 days. This further deprived these citizens of their liberty which is prohibited by Amendment XIV, Section 1. This amendment says in part “…. nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; ...” These examples were/are being repeated over and over again across the nation.

The governor of New Jersey on 4/15/2020, in response to a question from Tucker Carlson on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News as to whether he had considered the Bill of Rights when issuing orders to the citizens of New Jersey concerning church services and the peaceful assembly of a group, responded that “That (the Bill of Rights) was above his pay grade”. That answer is nonsense; it is dangerous; and it is a dereliction of his duty. All government officials are held accountable to the Constitution and they are obliged to uphold the Constitution. The fact that this governor had not even considered the rights of American citizens when issuing orders to churches protected by the Constitution is downright scary. His oath of office represents exactly what is included in the governor’s pay grade and if he does not know that, he should not be paid. What follows is the Oath of Office for the governor of New Jersey. Notice also that the oath acknowledges the authority of the people.

                        "I, , do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same and to the Governments established in the United States and in this State, under the authority of the people. So, help me God."

Other government officials, while not making the same mistake as the Governor of New Jersey by voicing their blatant disregard for rights out loud, have certainly put that disregard into practice vigorously and with impunity. Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, one of the fine law firms that provide free legal services to protect religious liberty, reports that they have clients in approximately 40 states where pastors have been arrested for providing religious and charitable services to the community while not disobeying any of the distancing recommendations. First Liberty, another of the fine law firms providing legal services to protect religious liberty is reporting similar circumstances. COVID-19 is not the only epidemic happening in this nation. Religious freedom is under direct assault as well as other rights.

As of this writing the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, has stepped in and issued a written warning to state and local governments. On April 14, 2020, in his statement Barr explained that, “Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”

However, it is ultimately up to the People to ensure that the government does not trample their rights.  As General Barr so rightly pointed out, the government may request that the people suspend some of their liberty in cases of national emergency. However, that is expected to be a temporary situation and, if or when, the restriction of that liberty becomes burdensome the people can demand that it be removed.  We may peacefully assemble to protest; sign and send petitions to the government; contact elected representatives to complain; support those who are filing lawsuits to protect our religious liberty and, when the time comes, vote those who have violated the Bill of Rights out of office. Remember the government is not intended to regulate our rights; it is required to protect our rights. Please do not sit passively by.

The third category of rights that we may exercise are those non-permanent rights given to us by regulation. For example, if the driving laws of your state permit it, you may turn right on a red light after you have stopped and made certain that there is no traffic coming and it is safe to do so. That right can be removed at any time if a certain street corner is deemed to have too much traffic to safely allow drivers to continue to make a right hand turn on a red light. Another of these mundane rights can be something as simple as the right or ability to apply for certain licenses at a specific location operated by the state or local government. The government may decide that location is too busy and move some of the licenses previously offered at one location to a different location. Therefore, you have lost the right or ability to utilize that location for your purposes. Other than an inconvenience to us, these changes have little or no impact on our overall life or liberty.

What we do hear more and more of in today’s society are people claiming certain actions or attempting to access certain things as a right that are clearly controversial or certainly are arguably wrong. Let us look at this discussion using a foundational premise:  a right cannot infringe on the rights of others in their life, liberty, or property. In other words, what you think is a right cannot interfere with someone else’s rights. What God has gifted to each of us in our Spiritual rights does not impact the right of others to those same Spiritual gifts.  My salvation does not impede you accepting your salvation. My freedom of religion does not prevent your freedom of religion. My freedom of speech does not prevent your freedom of speech and unless that speech turns into slander it costs neither of us anything. 

Now let us take a look at some really thorny current issues. The biggest current claim is that everyone has the right to universal health care. It sounds good and moral and just.  But, is it a right?  It depends on how the issue is framed and what is being claimed with that “right”.  Most often it means that taxpayers will a pay markedly increased amount of taxes to the government and that the Federal government will provide the healthcare services. First of all, take a look at the Constitution.  Nowhere within that document does it give the Federal government the authority to be in charge of the nation’s healthcare. Secondly, it is not a Constitutional enumerated right. And, measured against our premise this is not a right. Universal health care will definitely cost all of us something.  It will assuredly cost me property, in the first instance, money.  And it may cost my conscience, which James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, described as the most sacred part of property.  If you want to spend my money on something that I morally or philosophically disagree with you are costing me my conscience. If you came directly to me and said give me money I want to have an abortion or a sex change procedure or I want to change the shape of my nose because I do not like it, I would say no. Under universal healthcare I would be robbed of the chance to say no; thereby violating my conscience. Therefore, by all criteria universal healthcare is not a right.  

Now, does this mean that I do not want someone to be able to go to a doctor and be treated for a sore throat or the flu? Of course not, but that is an entirely different discussion. Do not get pulled off into the weeds during a discussion of universal healthcare. Treating individual illnesses is not the same thing as a supposed right to universal healthcare.

There are also those with the mindset that they have a right to protest and riot.  The Constitution gives the right to peacefully assemble. That does not include the violent riots generated by groups like Antifa. No right exists on any level for this behavior. This also includes the riots and protests we have seen in some major cities where private property is destroyed or looted and the rioters yell that they have a right to take that property.  Again, there is no right to such behavior or the right to take the property of others. That behavior is simply stealing and is against the law.

The strangest right I hear claimed today is that of a “safe space” on public property. In other words, someone is standing on a specific spot of grass or sidewalk claiming that no one has the right to say anything that offends that individual while being in or near their safe space. By definition, public property means paid for by taxpayers or is accessible to many different people and it does not belong to any one individual. The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech on public property and there is no exemption for the carve-out of a safe space. That individual claiming the right of a safe space needs to go to his private property where he does have a safe space. The supposed right to a safe space on public property from speech with which an individual does not agree interferes with the protected rights of others and, therefore, the safe space concept is not a right.

You can take these criteria as to what constitutes a right and apply them to whatever “right” is being claimed and make an informed opinion as to the validity of any such claim. In this current culture we need to cut through the rhetoric and determine what God has said, what God has definitively given, what our Constitution has guaranteed and what can be decided through God-given basic reasoning skills. Our religious freedom and our life, liberty and defense of property depend upon it. Pray that God grants us His mercy, wisdom, and grace as we step forward to put all of this into practice. We are at war with those who would deprive us of our rights, particularly the right of freedom of religion.  It is a war we dare not lose.

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