I’ve developed a pretty unique perspective on rights over the past decade. We claim that rights come from God, yet few are able to draw clear lines between the things we have the right to do and the things we must not do. Some claim that we have the right to do anything we want, so long as it doesn’t harm a person’s life, liberty, or property in a measurable way. The consequence of that belief is that many people claim we have the right to perform certain sinful acts. However, if God gave us the right to sin and then subsequently punished us for sinning, he would be unjust and would cease to be God. This must mean that we only have the inalienable right to say, think, or behave in ways that are moral. I often define “moral behavior” as that which is compatible with the protection and preservation of our natural, God-given rights.

Rights aren’t called inalienable because we cannot be deprived of our use of them. People are abused and deprived of their rights every day. Rights are inalienable because they cannot be taken from us without the offender coming under the judgment of God. However, judgment is not the same as condemnation. Condemnation is the result of God finding us guilty after using His judgment. Judgment is simply the process through which God determines whether our behavior is honorable or not. So to reiterate, when we deprive a person of a measure of their rights, we come under the judgment of God and He determines whether our behavior was honorable. D&C 134 says that government is instituted by God for the benefit of man, and philosophers like John Locke and William Blackstone taught that natural law requires that we intervene when rights are being abused. So we know that it can be moral to use government to establish formal consequences for dangerous and immoral behavior (meaning harmful or in violation of natural law). But we need to make the difficult decision about what level of formal consequence is appropriate for each level of dangerous and harmful behavior.

I believe “harmful behavior” describes actions that already have violated somebody’s unalienable rights, while “dangerous behavior” describes actions that could inflict great harm on somebody’s rights. Sometimes it’s necessary to create artificial consequences that punish dangerous behavior to incentivize people to avoid actions that could cause irreparable harm to others. In order to establish laws that punish dangerous behavior, as opposed to harmful behavior, the people need to agree to surrender their freedom (support their representatives who pass legislation) to engage in activities that have the potential to be harmful to a person’s rights.

We say that rights come from God and are identified in scripture, but for many years I struggled to know exactly how to identify those rights as I read scripture. I’ve learned to identify inalienable rights as everything that is both necessary and proper for us to do to keep all of God’s commandments. Here’s a list of some important inalienable rights that could easily be backed by scripture:

  • To love and worship God
  • To love others
  • To respect the agency of others
  • To communicate with others
  • To develop romantic relationships
  • To marry
  • To procreate within the bonds of marriage
  • To raise a family
  • To associate or disassociate with others
  • To pursue education and explore ideas
  • To acquire and dispose of private property
  • To trade property with others through voluntary transactions
  • To be free from bondage
  • To hire representatives and officers to protect our rights more efficiently
  • To choose and influence my representatives
  • To enter into contracts with others
  • To voluntarily forfeit our claim to some rights in order to better protect other rights, so long as we are not forfeiting an inalienable duty
  • To intervene in a conflict to protect another from abuse
  • To volunteer and serve with my time, talents, and treasures
  • To participate in activities that bring me lasting joy, refresh my mind and spirit, and empower me to grow and serve
  • To refuse to sin or participate in other activities that damage my body, intelligence, or character
  • To refuse to violate the inalienable rights of others
  • To participate in satisfying the demands of justice
  • To extend mercy
  • To advocate for a different punishment of a crime
  • To impose artificial consequences on my children for immoral behaviors
  • To set aside one day of the week as a Sabbath to refrain from labor and to worship God
  • To worship only the one true God
  • To testify as a witness
  • To not be compelled to say anything against our conscience
  • To not lie
  • To defend the rights of others
  • To punish those who are abusive of the rights of others
  • To use legislation to uphold basic standards of morality and decency

Remember, we have the inalienable right to do anything that is both necessary and proper to keep all of God’s commandments.

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