Saturday, September 8, 2012

(God given?) Rights

The other day, someone was arguing that rights can only come from God. To do this he actually quoted the following excerpt from the Declaration of Independence.

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.

 He then claimed that atheists couldn't reconcile that quote with atheism if they think the have rights, and that if you try to claim that people decide rights that they mean nothing because if people can give them, they can also take them. Not surprisingly, his argument fails...

It actually isn't hard for an atheist to reconcile that phrase from the Declaration, since that documents intent was to declare independence from Britain. Conversely, the Constitution established the United States and the rights on which it was built. This document (notably secular) is the one that is really important. But lets look at the Declaration briefly, and please realize that the term 'creator' is broad and could have a few meanings. But even if we are to assume a deity is the intent, which deity is NOT established.

But again, the important fact is that we draw our rights from the Constitution. As he said, if rights aren't granted from a deity, and man instead, they can be granted and revoked. This is actually amazingly important, and why our founders made the Constitution as a living document. In US history, rights have been given and taken away. Equality was eventually given to women and African-Americans. Rights have also been revoked, like the right to own slaves. Those are just a few examples that show that our government grants and decides what rights that are to be afforded, and that this fact is a very good thing! And if the Constitution is used as a guide, well reasoned rights are a very lucky thing for us to have. If rights weren't flexible, women would be resigned to second class status and there would be no option for the correction of that shortcoming. I'll take reasoned rights any day.

-BH

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