The Origin of Human Rights

Image Source: Tony the Misfit (own work), from Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Tony the Misfit (own work), from Wikimedia Commons

Many people say the United States is a secular nation. Insofar as we allow people of all races, beliefs, and nationalities within our borders, this is true. At our very core however is a reliance on God.
This can be seen particularly well in the declaration our leaders made when breaking away from England.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another
and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them,
a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

"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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The Declaration of Independence begins with the assumption that Nature and Nature’s God entitle us to a station that is equal to the station of all other people on the earth. This also indicates that the authors (however poorly they may have shown it in their personal lives) consider all other peoples to be our equals. Nature and Nature’s God entitles all peoples to this station. These ideas of natural law can be traced at least to the Roman philosopher Cicero, who died in 43 B.C.

How would Nature entitle anyone to anything however? Where do these rights come from? It seems that in the absence of God, the state is the greatest arbiter of what is good. Why is the state the arbiter? Because it is the governmental structure arrived at through evolution. It is the structure for a group of humans that has been shown to best allow for the survival of the people within that state.  If this is the case however, there is no good reason for one people to dissolve the political bands, because the ultimate arbiter of morality is the state from which we are dissolving our bands.

In the next paragraph we are told that there are self-evident truths, including that we have an unalienable right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Where do these rights come from? Jefferson told us they come from the creator. But what about the government… the being that in the absence of God would be the greatest arbiter of morality? Jefferson states, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men”. So the signers of the Declaration of Independence considered God to be the one who granted rights, and Governments as the organizations tasked by God to secure these rights.
The Government is the servant of the people and is expected to do God’s will. It is not the determiner of what is right and wrong... moral and immoral.

If the state determines right and wrong, the founding fathers were wrong to rebel. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Kaepernick… all are immoral, because they protested the state. Anyone who protests laws they consider unjust is fighting against the moral truth of the society in which he is protesting, and is by definition immoral. Only by appealing to a God whose moral law was greater than that of society could our Founding Fathers justify their protest.

Let’s see what the preamble would look like if we took away language that showed our dependence on God… We hold these truths to be evident, that all men are equal, that they are endowed by their State with certain Rights, which in our case include Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. How frightening is the idea of our rights being granted us by the state? Is this the sort of state towards which secularists strive? Of course not. They want to think we have transcendent rights as much as everyone else. Only in a state that places itself under God however can we expect to have a right to life, liberty, equality, freedom… all of the things that we expect in our society. The only way a secular society with all of its differing beliefs and people groups can expect to thrive is by believing deeply in ideals that require God to justify. Such a society requires that we accept that all people share our rights, are equally worthy of those rights, and that the state cannot remove those rights from any of us.