The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson

Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts, Meanderings,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).

Natural, Human, and Civil Rights


As sentient, conscience, intelligent beings, we all have Natural Rights. If we did not have Natural Rights, then any rights that we may have would be endowed by society or by governments. And anything that society or government can give can be taken away by society or government. This would make humans subservient to society and governments, and not allow for any freedoms or liberties for the individual except those that a society or government would endow. The aphorism “Might Make Right” would be the law of the land, and nobody would have protections for their persons, family, and property. Murder, theft, cruel and unusual punishments, even slavery, and a host of other indignities would be commonplace. And it would usually be inflicted by the mighty upon the weak. A hierarchy of might that would be utilized to organize society and governments. This is how animal societies are organized. But man is not a beast and should not govern themselves as a beast does. The common man should not be become common chattel, to be used and discarded as the mighty see fit. To do so would mean that Law would be arbitrary and used for the purposes of the mighty.

That Natural Rights are not definitive nor fully articulated is not a reason to deny or disparage Natural Rights. Just as morality and ethics are not established, it is not a reason to deny the existence of or to disparage morality or ethics. Humanity must continue to explore Natural Rights, morals, and ethics to reach a fuller understanding and effectuation of Natural Rights, morality, and ethics. And the Law must evolve to incorporate our discoveries from this exploration. To ignore Natural Rights until they are definitive or fully articulated is to say we can ignore the law until it is definitive and fully articulated, which of course, is an absurdity. It is equivalent to saying that we can ignore science until science can answer all our questions. Just as science cannot answer all questions, the questions of Natural Rights may never be fully answered. But these questions must be asked, explored, and be acted upon while we discover the answers.

The Foundation and Hierarchy of Rights

There is a difference between Natural, Human, and Civil Rights. Natural Rights are those that are not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government, and so are universal, fundamental, and inalienable  (they cannot be repealed by human laws, though one can forfeit their enjoyment through one's actions, such as by violating someone else's rights). Human Rights, on the other hand, are bestowed by the state for the protection of Natural Rights. As a result, whereas Natural Rights (such as life, liberty, and property) are rights that government protects from infringement by others, Human Rights (such as “The Bill of Rights” and the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the Constitution) are often rights that a government is obligated to provide. Civil Rights are laws that are laid down to institute our Natural and Human Rights, and as such, a Civil Right cannot violate any Natural or Human Right. Many people have championed an array of new “economic and social rights” conceived of, defined by, and promoted by the government as Human Rights, but there is much debate if these are actual Human or Civil Rights, or simply desirable goals for a society. In my view, Americans have a hierarchy of rights. They are:

  1. Natural Rights as espoused in The Declaration of Independence
  2. Human Rights as espoused in the Constitution of the United States
  3. Civil Rights as codified in the laws of the United States

Natural Rights

The first and most important of these are Natural Rights, as expressed in 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.”

All Natural Rights reside within the individual. No government or society constituted that violates Natural Rights is a legitimate government or society. The individual members of society can cede some of their Natural Rights to ensure a just society, but they still retain their Natural Rights. The government or society has a duty to ensure that those rights ceded to it are upheld. A government that does not uphold these ceded rights is not a legitimate government. Failure of a government to uphold these rights is a legitimate reason for the members of the society to change or replace such a government.

An example of this is if someone commits a crime against you, then you have the Natural Right to exact punishment. However, to assure that the accused Natural and Human Rights are protected, that the accused is guilty of the crime, and the punishment fits the crime, we cede this Natural Right to the government. The government is responsible for providing a fair and just trial for the accused, and if found guilty, punish the accused. The failure of a government to properly implement this ceded Natural Right is a failure of enforcing the Natural Rights of the individual who is aggrieved.

Human Rights

The next in importance is Human Rights as enumerated by the Constitution and its Amendments, which are so constituted to preserve the Natural Rights of its citizens. This is best illustrated by the Preamble to the Constitution.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This is a compact between the people and the government to ensure that our Natural and Human Rights are instituted and protected. It is a compact that the citizens of the United States have agreed upon, to provide for a peaceful and just society for all. When the government violates our Constitutional rights, it is also violating our Human Rights. Any such violations of the Constitution and/or our Human Rights must be vigorously opposed by all citizens. The just way of opposing this is by electing Congressional Representatives or the President who will uphold the Constitution. For executive officials who violate the Constitution, the just way of resolving this violation is by their impeachment and removal from office. For appointed officials who violate the Constitution, they should be removed from office. To retain executive and appointed officials who would violate our constitutional and/or Human Rights is unacceptable and is a violation of our Human and Constitutional rights.

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was adopted to assure that our Human Rights were protected. My article “The Underlying Meaning of the Bill of Rights” examines these enumerate Human Rights. The Founders also knew that other Human Rights existed but could not be properly enumerated.  They, therefore, established the 9th and 10th amendments to the United States Constitution to assure that these unenumerated Human Rights could not be encroached upon by the Federal Government. The 13th through 15th Amendments, as examined in my article “The Meaning of the 13th through 15th Amendments” and the 19th Amendments were also added to assure that our Human Rights were protected.

Civil Rights

Civil Rights are those Laws passed by Congress and signed by the President that are necessary to protect our Natural and Constitutional Rights. All such Civil Rights laws need to be passed and implemented within the framework of the Constitution. This means that the Congress of the United States would pass a Civil Rights law, which the President of the United States would sign (or a veto being overridden), before being implemented, and that the Judiciary can adjudicate the law as to its constitutionality. This also means that the judiciary cannot create a civil right but only adjudicate the constitutionality of a civil rights law. The judiciary should be limited to reviewing the Civil Rights laws, to assure they do not conflict with our Constitutional and/or Human Rights. As such, Civil Rights sit at the bottom of the hierarchy of our Rights of Human, Constitutional, and Civil Rights.

Many of these Civil Rights laws are for the protection of non-discrimination based on race, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age, veteran status, disability, military service, political affiliation, or other protected status. However, a Civil Right cannot be created that is not a Human or Constitutional Right, for to do so is to extend the Constitution beyond its bounds. An extension that infringes upon the prerogative of the self-governance of the people and the States as stated in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution:

Amendment IX:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Amendment X:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

However, Civil Rights laws are important to protect our Human and Constitutional Rights, and they are enumerated powers of the Federal government, as stated in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution:

Amendment XIV:

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Therefore, Civil Rights laws are necessary and proper when they protect our Natural and Human Rights and do not infringe on any other of our Human and Constitutional Rights.

Our Natural and Human Rights Under the Constitution

The Revolutionary War was fought to retain and preserve Natural Rights. The United States Constitution was created to preserve our Natural Rights of “Freedoms, Liberties, Equalities, and Equal Justice for All” through the institution of Human Rights. The Bill of Rights was adopted to prohibit the government from encroaching on our Human Rights, while other Amendments expanded our Human Rights. These Amendments that dealt with Human Rights are as follows:

  • The 1st Amendment was brought forth by the British attempts to shut down debate by dissolving legislative bodies and restricting assemblies, as well as constricting the freedom of the press, the freedom of speech, and the right to peaceably assemble to protest their actions. This was done for the purposes of preventing public dissension from the British dictates and mandates, which is a violation of the Natural Rights of a person.
  • The 2nd Amendment was brought forth by the British attempts to seize weapons of the Colonials. Indeed, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, The Battles of Lexington and Concord, occurred as a result of British troops marching from Boston to nearby Concord in order to seize an arms cache. A seizing of weapons that were required to protect the Natural Rights of the people.
  • The 3rd Amendment was brought forth by the British attempts to instill fear and intimidation to prevent dissidents from exercising their Natural Rights.
  • The 4th through 8th Amendments was brought forth by the British attempts to pervert the judicial systems to assure that dissidents would not have due process rights and to fear imprisonment or worse if they exercised their Natural Rights.
  • The 9th and 10th Amendments were to constrict the federal governments' powers to assure that other Natural Rights were not impinged by the Federal government.
  • The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were passed as a result of the Civil War and Reconstruction. It had become apparent that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had become inadequate to protect the Human Rights of all the people within the United States. Whether by the creation of laws, misinterpretations of law, or machinations by government officials, the Human Rights of the newly freed slaves and the previously free negro people, were being violated. These Amendments were an attempt to correct this situation and establish Human Rights for all the people in America.
  • The 19th Amendment was passed to give the right of women to vote in political elections. It also, by inference, made women equal to men in all our Human Rights.

Freedom and Liberty

One should distinguish between the terms "Freedom" and "Liberty." Speaking generally, Freedom usually means to be free from something, whereas Liberty usually means to be free to do something, although both refer to the quality or state of being free. Freedom generally means you are free from despotic oppression, whether it be by a government, an aristocracy, a theocracy, or an individual or group. Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, Petitioning Government, to Bear Arms, to Vote, etc. refers to the release from despotic restraints. Liberty, on the other hand, gives you the right to choose a course of action. How to spend your money, what job or occupation you wish to pursue, where you live, who you associate with, what education you undertake, who to marry, or any personal decision you make is liberty. Freedom is not to be used in the sense of our being free to do anything we want. All laws can be viewed as a restriction on freedom and liberty, and such restrictions are proper in any well-regulated society. But they are only proper to prevent one person’s freedom and liberty from infringing on another person’s freedom or liberty. It is this balance between each person’s Freedom and Liberty that defines the state of a Free Society, or as Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan said:

“I believe that every individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other men's rights.”
- Abraham Lincoln on Liberty

“Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to dream -- to follow your dream or stick to your conscience, even if you're the only one in a sea of doubters. Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.”
- Ronald Reagan at a Moscow State University Address

The right to liberty and the right to freedom is a natural right. In law, it is any basic right to which all human beings are entitled and in whose exercise a government may not interfere. These include rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as well as freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, petitioning the government, to bear arms, to vote, and other Human Rights concepts enshrined in our Constitution.

The Law, Morality, and Ethics

The Law is made by man to protect the Natural and Human Rights of an individual person. The Law is also a means to organize society in a manner that assures an orderly and just society for the protection of its citizens from enemies, both foreign and domestic. This includes protection against those who would violate our Natural and Human Rights. No person, no group, no society, no government, and no law may encroach on the Natural and Human Rights of a person. Any government or law which allows for the violation of Natural and Human Rights is not a just government or law, and therefore an illegitimate government or law. The law resides below Natural and Human Rights as it is made in support of our Natural and Human Rights. Any law that violates these Natural and Human Rights is null and void by its very violation of Natural and Human Rights. This is one of the ways that we achieve “A Just Government and a Just Society”. But just obeying the law is not enough, as I explained in my Chirp “Doing Nothing Illegal”. Morality and Ethics are needed to supplement the Law, as the Law cannot conceivably cover all human interactions and situations. So, Morality and Ethics sit beside the law in support of Human Rights. We cannot punish people for immoral or unethical actions, for punishment is reserved for violations of the Law. We can, however, judge them in our personal and public opinions for immoral, unethical, or reprehensible actions. We can also decide to make egregious immoral, unethical, or reprehensible actions illegal in the future, but not ex post facto if we determine they violate Natural and Human Rights.

And remember the Law is not all for Natural and Human Rights to be established. The Law needs Morality and Ethics for the protection of Natural and Human Rights. To say that someone has done nothing illegal is to not say that they have not violated the Natural or Human Rights of another. And doing nothing illegal is not a justification for doing something immoral or unethical.

Misunderstandings of Rights

Yet today, there is a misunderstanding of what Human Rights actually means. People often confuse Human Rights with a list of entitlements that should be provided for them. Human Rights are not entitlements to be provided for but reside within an individual due to their Natural Rights. There is no human right for someone or some entity to provide you with food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, income, etc. But there is a human right for you to pursue these things for your happiness. A government or society may decide to provide these entitlements to its citizens, but not for the purposes of Human Rights but for the purposes of the betterment of society. But a government or society cannot provide these entitlements if it entails infringing on another’s Human Rights as examined in my article on “The Four Freedoms” and "Entitlements". Your Natural and Human Rights have not been violated if these items are not provided for you. If someone or some entity attempts to interfere or stop you from pursuing these things, then they are violating your Natural and Human Rights.

A good article that explores this issue is “Human Rights Vs Natural Rights” by Adam Kaiser. This article starts with:

“In our current political discourse the claim of Human Rights is often used to describe something as sacred or inviolable, express a sense of entitlement, and shape ideas of justice. However, there is much dispute over what counts as a right, where they comes from, and what moral weight we ought to credit them. Much of this dispute has originated from the transition from a Natural Rights framework to a Human Rights framework, which has blurred the line between negative and positive rights. This transition has weakened our social valuation of rights and more distressingly, threatens our fundamental Natural Rights in favor of efforts to guarantee certain levels of material comfort.”

I would highly recommend this article as it conveys the issues and concerns of the misunderstandings of rights.

Protection of Rights

The best way to protect Natural Rights is to acknowledge they exist, and then to enshrine them in our deeds and laws as Human Rights. Let no one, entity, nor government violate our Natural and Human Rights, and do not yourself violate anyone’s Natural or Human Rights. For if anyone successfully violates another’s Natural and Human Rights, then no one’s Natural and Human Rights are safe. We must continue to struggle with the question of what entails Natural Rights and to incorporate our Natural Rights into our Constitution, Laws, Rules, and Regulations as Human Rights.  In America, we have struggled with this concept since our founding. The largest struggle was in slavery and civil rights. We initially got it wrong, and some of our founders recognized it was wrong. But in America, we had the capability to recognize our wrongs and to put them right. Slavery was put right through a Civil War, while Civil Rights were put right through legislation and judicial rulings. We must continue to recognize where we may be wrong and to put it right through Legislation and Judicial rulings. Otherwise, we may have to put it right through a civil war (i.e., the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling was put right by the Civil War). May God help us if we need to resort to another civil war to put it right.


All Natural, Human, and Civil rights must be upheld within “Freedoms, Liberties, Equalities, and Equal Justice for All”. All persons must have the same protections of their Natural, Human, and Civil Rights, and no one may be above or below the law. No Civil Right can abrogate Human or Constitutional Rights as they are derived from Human and Constitutional Rights, and no Human or Constitutional Right can abrogate a Natural Right. No laws passed by Congress can abrogate your Natural and Human Rights, and no Executive action order can supersede any Natural, Human, and Civil Rights. All such laws and orders must only be utilized to implement these Natural, Human, and Civil Rights.

Therefore, we all must dedicate ourselves to the implementation and protection of Natural, Human, and Civil Rights for us to have "A Just Government and a Just Society".