“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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our Declaration of Independence recognizes the endowment of unalienable rights by our Creator upon mankind. But what does “unalienable” mean? What exactly is “a right”? And how can we know what our rights are?
Meaning of Unalienable
1828 Webster’s Dictionary: Not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as unalienable rights.
Oxford: unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.
Merriam-Webster: incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred.
Unalienable means that something cannot be transferred or violated by force, favor, neglect, or any other arrangement.
Definition of Rights
1828 Webster’s Dictionary: just claim; immunity; privilege; legal title; ownership; just claim by sovereignty; prerogative; that which justly belongs to one; authority; legal power.
Merriam-Webster: something to which one has a just claim; the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled; something that one may properly claim as due.
These summaries of the definitions of these rights leave a lot to unpack. To summarize, a right is a legitimate moral or legal claim to a privilege of having something or the opportunity to do something.
One definition of rights includes “Just claim by courtesy, customs, or the principles of civility and decorum” which implies vested rights that are granted by society. However, rights that are granted by society may also be taken away by society.
It is the subject of unalienable rights with which we must become very familiar.
Unalienable rights are the category of rights that cannot be infringed without the violator coming under the judgment of God. These rights are unalienable because as God granted them, only He can take them away.
Equality of Opportunity
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are some of the most important categories of unalienable rights. Notice that we are not guaranteed happiness—only the right to pursue happiness. Beyond the adolescent years of dependency upon our parents, unalienable rights entitle us only to the opportunity of receiving equal protection under the law during our pursuit of happiness.
The proper role of government is restricted to equalizing the legal playing field by offering equal protection to all citizens.
So long as people are free, people will take different levels of initiative, pursue different levels of education, take on different levels of risk, and experience different outcomes. The only way for a government to guarantee equality of outcome would be to violate equality of opportunity before the law. Government could use law and coercion to guarantee equality of outcomes regardless of education, risk, and initiative, etc… However, our God-given rights only entitle us to equal protection under the law, not equal “things” or outcomes.
If government has the authority to grant rights, then they also have the power to take them away. These rights that can be granted and removed by government are called vested rights. However, our God-given rights are unalienable and can only be removed by Him.
Has God ever removed somebody’s unalienable rights, in whole or in part? Yes, the scriptures are filled with accounts of individuals forfeiting their rights to life, liberty, and property through their consistent abuse of the rights of others.
How can rights be identified in scripture? Unfortunately, there is no chapter in the Bible, Quran, Torah, etc., listing every unalienable right. There is, however, a very simple way to identify rights in scripture.
God is perfectly just, which means after giving us a commandment, He must give us the divine permission (or right) to do anything that is 1) necessary and 2) proper in order to keep His commandments. This means that every right is associated with a commandment. When God gives a commandment, we can know that we have the inalienable right to keep that commandment and do anything that is 1) necessary and 2) proper in order to be obedient.
Obtaining and using property is both necessary and proper in order to be obedient to keeping God’s commandments. This makes the acquisition of private property an unalienable right. In fact, this is one of the most important rights because it empowers us to keep virtually all of God’s commandments. Very few of God’s commandments would be possible without ownership and control of property. This one right activates virtually all others.
- Unalienable rights are rights that cannot be infringed without incurring the justice of God.
- Unalienable rights guarantee equality of protection and opportunity before the law, not equality of outcomes. Government can only morally provide equal protection, not equal things.
- Unalienable rights come from God, not government.
- All legitimate vested rights are founded upon unalienable rights.
- Rights can be identified in scripture and are associated with God’s commandments.
- We have the unalienable right to do anything that is 1) necessary and 2) proper in order to keep God’s commandments.
- Property rights make all other rights possible.
- The Making of America – Chapter 1: The Man Who Discovered America’s Freedom Formula (Jefferson’s Preparations and Background)
- The Making of America – Chapter 1: “Writing the Declaration of Independence”
- The 5,000 Year Leap – Principle 7: “Equal Rights, Not Equal Things”
- The 5,000 Year Leap – Principle 8: “Man’s Unalienable Rights”
- The 5,000 Year Leap – Principle 14: “Property Rights Essential to Liberty”