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From what source do we receive our civil liberties and civil rights, and what is the difference?

Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #140 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.

We hear a lot on social media about rights and sometimes liberties. Generally, the trend is to argue for more perceived rights for one group or another, but rarely is the word “rights” defined and even more rarely is the word “liberties” understood or distinguished.

A cornucopia of new rights—or should I say demands?—are now promoted, all in the name of addressing some perceived discriminatory wrong, or increasing the quality of life, or living our best life now, but most often, simply trying to liberate us from traditional moral standards now considered restrictive and oppressive.

People put their faith in government to provide these rights, to give us our narcissistic due by the power of legal coercion or protection, perhaps not realizing that if indeed government can give us certain rights than government can also take them away.

“The terms "civil rights" and "civil liberties" are often used synonymously or interchangeably, but their meanings are distinct.” Both words are used in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. But they are different. 

Civil liberties are identified in the Bill of the Rights, here called rights. They are similar to what is referred to as human rights or natural rights, those that adhere to human beings as gifts of God or designations of nature

Civil liberties are inviolable or in the words of 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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Civil liberties, called rights in the Declaration, are “unalienable,” meaning they cannot justly be taken away by some human power, and government is designed “to secure these rights” – not to grant them but to secure them. This is a critical distinction lost on contemporary politics.

Civil liberties “are freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution to protect us from tyranny (think: our freedom of speech), while civil rights are the legal rights that protect individuals from discrimination (think: employment discrimination).” 

Civil liberties “concern the actual basic freedoms; civil rights concern the treatment of an individual regarding certain rights.”

Civil liberties are not granted by government but are guarantees against government taking them away. 

Civil liberties are protections against government action. Civil liberties restrain governments; they list what governments cannot do. The United States federal, state, or local governments did not give us our civil liberties. They are gifts of God, natural or human rights, ours by birthright.

Civil liberties as enumerated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence include life, liberty. In the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers expanded on these unalienable rights to include freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly or to petition the government for redress of grievances, the 14th Amendment’s due process, the 6thAmendment’s right to a fair trial, equal treatment under the law, and right to own property. 

Unlike Civil liberties that are guarantors against government, Civil rights are actions governments may institute to extend additional protections to citizens. 

Civil rights list what governments must do and have been expanded over time through “positive actions” of government, for example the 13th Amendment ending slavery in 1865, the 15thAmendment granting male citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution in 1920 giving women the right to vote, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, attempts a comprehensive list.

Civil rights include the right to vote, right to public education, or right to access public facilities, employment, housing.

More recently, a right to privacy and the legalization of same-sex marriage have been added to American understanding of basic rights.

Citizens’ civil liberties may never lawfully be abridged without due process of law, while citizens’ civil rights may change over time according to new legislation enacted into law as interpreted by the courts.

In liberal democracies, civil liberties or natural rights predate and are a priori to governments. It is enormously important to recognize and remember this, particularly in this time when a number of “Big Government” philosophies are ascendent and people frequently call for government to alter basic liberties according to their proclivities. And it’s also a time, like the 2020s pandemic panic, in which state governments via overreaching governors issued “orders”-upon-orders, telling citizens what to do and in a number of cases limiting their civil liberties.

People argue for more government to create more of what they consider rights.

Several countries now make abortion on demand a right protected their constitutions: Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Nepal, India to name a few.

Today, a newer set of perceived rights are being vigorously promoted by leftist, progressives or so-called social justice warriors, including right to be free from pain, right to die, right to food, education, work, health, right not to be hungry, right to dignity, right to safety, right to fair rent, right to asylum, right to cultural and minority rights of indigenous peoples, right to housing – even if a squatter who has moved into someone else’s property and now is protected and legally cannot be evicted, right of criminally convicted men identifying as women to be placed in women’s prisons, right to transgender surgery, right to water and sanitation, immigrant rights, and many more. Indeed, the list is endless because every time someone thinks of something he or she does not have but desires, argues it is their right, i.e., demands, government grant it.

It’s not that all of these things are necessarily bad or wrong, though some are clearly unbiblical, but it is that the idea is lost that because something is desired does not make it a “right” that must be guaranteed by government.

Any of us would wish to be free from pain, and some among us suffer miserably, but is it a “right” to be free from pain? Where does God’s providence fit into this idea? 

Equality before the law or equal opportunity are one thing, meaning all stand on their own merits, talent, vision, and work ethic. But equity of condition in society, i.e., the contemporary definition of “fair,” means that all must be the same, leveled. 

It is the classic Marxist perspective of the haves vs the have nots, oppressor and oppressed, a philosophy based not upon freedom of honest enterprise but upon envy, entitlement, coercion, and legalized theft. 

Once God is tossed from the equation, anything goes, and American culture has done just this in my lifetime.

G.K. Chesterton reputedly said, “When people cease to believe in God, they do not then believe in nothing, but in anything.” This is what we have now, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

For example, immigrant rights have absorbed criminal rights resulting in illegal aliens pursuing whatever lawlessness they please, then claiming rights that protect them against prosecution and justice. One flaw in this argument is that if they are illegal, then they have no U.S. civil liberties or civil rights because they are not citizens of this country.

Rights, plucked from the air, are the currency of American politics and culture, with little or no consideration of responsibility or liberty.

The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights may not be perfect, but no other civil documents create a governmental system more protective and more supportive of individual liberty. This is a precious heritage we are fast losing in the chaos currently allowed by the ruling class.


Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s 

And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2024   

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