Government Isn't the Creator of Rights

Whether a politician's words constitute a flagrant faux pas or innocent slip of the tongue often depends on the offender's party affiliation.  Democrats can commit untimely gaffes with relative impunity.  But for Republicans to utter supposed misstatements is proof-positive that conservatives are knuckle-draggers.  According to some commentators, Rick Santorum committed such a verbal error while countering claims that government-mandated health care is a fundamental right.

"Rights come from our creator," Santorum declared.  "They are protected by the Constitution of this country.  Rights should not and cannot be created by a government because any time a government creates a right, they can take that right away."

Think what you will about Rick Santorum, his record, and his future prospects.  But his transgression wasn't inaccuracy.  His sin was daring to challenge the fundamental leftist idea that rights originate in government.

To assume that human liberties, defined as rights, are products of government is illogical.  Since government produces nothing of its own accord, and therefore possesses nothing, it can only distribute what it first takes.  Government can bestow retractable privileges, but not inalienable rights.  For example, governments issue the driver's license, which is considered a privilege.  As such, governments can disperse the driver's license on their terms, according to their will, or revoke the privilege altogether.  A veritable right is quite different.

Genuine rights are inalienable and self-evident.  A right exists without government permission, and no expert translation is necessary to understand its presence.  Rational people instinctively understand their rights and how government incursions weaken their liberties.  So to recognize the Creator as the source of liberty is entirely sensible.  What a Creator has granted, no government can retract.  Government may ignore a right -- a too common occurrence -- but the right still exists for those who will undergo the fatigues of supporting it.

The media is government's willing accomplice in undermining rights and liberties.  In fact, the two are working overtime to subvert our natural right to determine our own happiness, and they're rewriting our foundational history in the process.  In the news story on Santorum's supposed misstatement, the reporter promotes the idea that government can bestow rights, claiming that men placed our rights in our Constitution.  That reporter is either ignorant or an ideological puppet.

The Founders never claimed to have invented or granted the rights in the Constitution; they wrote so as to recognize pre-existing rights and to protect them from government abuse.  The Constitution's purpose wasn't to enumerate each individual liberty common to free people.  Rather, it was to restrain government from trampling not only identified rights, but also any others that naturally exist.  In order to establish a workable government while maintaining inalienable rights and liberties, the Founders had to recognize the source of rights as beyond government's ability.

While big-government advocates often belittle the idea that rights are natural, dismissing this idea as the theocratic ramblings of Christian fundamentalists, their argument is not with our Creator alone.  It's also with the Founding Fathers, and especially Thomas Jefferson.  The man most credited with resisting an American theocracy also believed that rights emanate from a higher source than human government.  In his most obvious reference, found in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson readily acknowledged the Creator's work in mankind's inalienable rights.  Furthermore, and equally damaging to big-government proponents, Jefferson recognized this truth as "self-evident."  He obviously believed that basic rights originate outside human government and are recognizable without government's bureaucratic analysis.  And lest we assume that Jefferson's positions in the Declaration were isolated, he left other references to confirm his view.

In A View on the Rights of British America, Jefferson again declared rights as self-evident and outside the so-called generosity of governments.  Jefferson knew that a free people would recognize rights as coming from nature's laws, "and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."  As in the Declaration, Jefferson confirmed his belief that the principles of right and wrong are obvious to any reasonable observer: "to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors."

Jefferson believed that people instinctively understand their rights and the roots thereof.  However, to remove any lingering concerns about government's authority to grant or revoke rights, let's again seek guidance from Rights: "The God, who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."

Possessing our rights is as natural as taking our next breaths.  To have life is to possess rights.  Government, Jefferson's "hand of force," can refuse to acknowledge our rights even to the point of destroying both us and our ability to exercise liberty.  But it cannot separate one from the other; life and liberty are mutually inclusive.  To take one is to take both.

Rights exist whether or not a standing government is sympathetic to their presence.  Santorum's critics should then save their breath.  The idea of a Creator granting our liberty is radical only in the minds of tyrants and slaves.  It is, however, well within the Founding Fathers' thoughts on the relationship between life and liberty, between citizens and governments.

Anthony W. Hager has authored more than 350 articles for various newspapers, periodicals and websites.  Contact him via his website,

If you experience technical problems, please write to