Since when did unalienable rights become rights sanctioned by the Constitution.
The phrase “unalienable rights” occurs in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Here it is:
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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…
The Bill of Rights, (added to the Constitution out of the concern of citizens that government must truly remain submissive to the people) limit government.* They do not liberate individuals. Neither are they our only rights. While everyone loves to remember the first, second, and fourth, not many remember the ninth:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Our founding fathers were steeped in the theology of natural rights granted to all mankind by our Creator. It is because the Lord created all men and women equal with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that such rights are unalienable. According to the dictionary, this means these rights “are not transferable to another or capable of being repudiated.” They are “inviolable, absolute, unassailable, and inherent.” No other person, and certainly no government, has the right to infringe these rights. Neither can they grant these rights since they have already been granted. There is only one exception. Since God granted them, he can also adjust them or rescind them. The Apostle James, writing by way of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote:
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:12-15
Why is all of this so important? It’s really simple. If these rights are Constitutional Rights afforded us by the government they can be changed. This means I can share the life-changing news about my Savior so long as the first amendment remains. Change it or eliminate it, either by constitutional process, or by presidential weight, judicial writ, or legislative whim (of which all three are unconstitutional and therefore illegal), and sharing the life-changing news about my Savior becomes unlawful. However, they are not Constitutional Rights afforded by a government, they are unalienable rights endowed by the Creator.
What does this mean to a follower of Christ? It means we practice our rights only under his discretion.
As James said, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.
As other apostles said on another occasion (when ordered not to proclaim Jesus): But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19,20
As Martin Luther said, when ordered to give up his beliefs by the powers that be, “Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” This may have been a bit flowery based on the standards of both today’s culture and by that of the first century Hebrew and Roman cultures, but it was still effective.
One is reminded of the words of Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
We live and breathe by the grace of God. Will we not also speak by the grace of God?
So, how about the next time we refer to our rights we remember to say “our God given rights,” rather than “our Constitutional rights.” And finally, how about the next time we refer to or even remember our rights, we remember to say “our God given rights subject to the grace of God.”
*Remember, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were added out of the concern of citizens that government truly remain submissive to the people. One might paraphrase the historical context: “Let there be no mistake. As was said earlier in the Declaration of Independence, governments serve at the will of the people. And just to be sure everyone remembers that rights are not granted by governments, but by God, let’s spell it out in these ten amendments we’ll call the Bill of Rights.”