To answer this question we must first answer a number of other questions like:
- What is a civil right?
- How do we decide what is a civil right and what is not?
- Who gets the final say as to what is a civil right and what is not?
Question #1 What is a civil right?
We throw around terms like “rights”, “freedom”, “human rights”, “liberty”, and “civil rights” thinking that we understand the terms and that everyone else understands them the same way we do. Often we think that we can declare we have a right and somehow it must be so; and everyone must fall in line and defend our “right”. Well it is not that easy.
All kinds of people assert that they have some “right”. There is the right to life, the right to choose, the right to privacy, property rights, reproductive rights, the right to health care, States rights, right to an education, animal rights, parental rights, the right to a fair trial, the right to just compensation; the list goes on and on. Everyone is claiming some type of right and often they are competing rights. Sometimes they are contradictory rights. .
I think we can agree that there are competing “rights” and someone declaring a right does not automatically give them that right.
So what is a civil right? I didn’t look in the dictionary because people use the term all of the time without looking it up, and to different people it means different things. Let’s break it down. Civil is the root of civilization or civilized. It applies to the city or a group of people or citizens. We talk about civil government, which is the government that rules the city or a group of people. So in one sense we could say that a civil right is one given to us by the government, but that is not accurate. We would call that a legal right. We use the term civil right to mean something different. Often we mean a right that all citizens should have whether or not the government has written a law to protect that right. Often in saying it is a civil right we are saying, ‘there should be a law’. We are saying that there is a set of rights that should be common to all citizens.
We are also saying that the government does not establish these rights. These are based on a standard outside of the government and a good government will acknowledge and protect these rights.
Question #2 How do we decide what is a civil right and what is not?
We already established that there are clear disagreements among people as to what things are civil rights and what are not. We also established that the standard for civil rights comes from outside of the government and that a good government will acknowledge and protect civil rights. So how do we decide what qualifies as a civil right and what doesn’t? It would be easy if we could sit down and clearly discuss and explore all of the different view points on a particular issue and everyone would come to an agreement, but that is not how the world works. Even calm intelligent honorable men and women disagree on key issues. It gets even worse when the unreasonable, loudmouth, fools with a personal gripe want to contribute to the discussion (and these people exist on both sides of any issue). So what are our options?
As mentioned above, reaching a consensus on any issue in America is nearly impossible. Consensus is seldom if ever reached. Usually it is more like a cease fire. One side or the other finally tires of the whole debate; they give-in, temporarily, in hopes of getting on to other things. “Consensus” does not mean that there is whole hearted agreement. Is consensus a valid base on which to decide on civil rights? The advertising statement that, ‘100 million Americans can’t be wrong’ is false. 100 million Americans can be wrong. In fact it is possible that all Americans can be wrong. More than once a unanimous jury has convicted an innocent man.
- Democratic Process
There is the democratic method. We discuss and debate the issue, and campaign passionately for our side and then we take a vote. The majority wins and the issue is settled. This is supposed to be the American way, the Democratic way. We even enter into wars to make the world safe for democracy.
The truth is we are not really in love with democracy. It’s OK when our side wins but we really don’t like the idea of just overpowering the losing side. And we really hate democracy when our side loses. In California Proposition 8 passed by majority vote, establishing marriage as between one man and one woman, the opposition took it to court to have the democratic process overturned. A vote doesn’t settle an issue it just kicks off the campaign to overturn the vote or bring it to another vote when public sympathies are more favorable.
In our soul we all know that truth is not democratic. Just because the majority of people believe something to be true, doesn’t make it true. Just because the majority of people vote to say something is a civil right doesn’t make is a civil right, it makes it a legal right and that is all.
In a compromise each side gets some of the things they want, and they agree to peacefully coexist based on the agreement. Again we find that compromise may or may not fully define and protect a civil right. Often a compromise simply sends one or both sides back to promoting their agenda, hoping to gain more ground in the next fight and the next “compromise”. It’s a bit like a football game. The offensive team drives the ball forward, and the defensive team resists. The ball is downed and each team goes into a huddle and plans the next play. Again they push against each other until they reach a new “compromise”. Generally the team that attacks the most aggressively gains ground.
In the Gay Rights debate we have moved from questions of, “Should the government protect homosexuals from discrimination in housing and employment?” to “Should same sex couples be able to register as domestic partners guaranteeing them may of the same rights as married couples”; now the question is “Should same sex marriage be a civil right?”
- Might Makes Right
In the musical “Camelot”, King Arthur is living in a society in which the person with the most power gets to determine what is right. When challenged, an issue is decided in a tournament or on the field of battle. The victor is determined to be right.
King Arthur proposes a different, more civilized approach where Noble men gather together at a round table and discuss issues and come to agreement. As the musical progresses everything is going well until immorality, corruption and cover-ups come into the kingdom, along with sins of the past. The situation deteriorates until civilization crumbles into violent conflict. All of the methods above have a tendency to decay and deteriorate until it is a pure power struggle. The group that is the most passionate about their cause and is willing to fight hard for it will continue to gain ground. Those that will bring to bear the most money, influence and power will prevail. They will hold as much ground as their power will allow. The pendulum will swing the other way when another group brings money, power and influence to push it back.
- Common Acceptance of a Higher Objective Standard
If we go back to the first part of this article we discover that the whole idea of a Civil Rights rests on the idea that there is a standard of right and wrong that is above and outside of the law and personal opinion. We also assume that this is a standard that doesn’t change. Every method discussed above is subject to personal or public opinion and every one of them can change and move.
The existence of a Higher Objective Standard assumes that there is a giver and enforcer of that standard. This is a description of God.Note: at this point some of the readers are bristling and gritting their teeth. If you are one of those, I ask that you take a deep breath and relax. Stop gritting your teeth and read the rest of the article with and open mind. Only a fool decides an issue without considering all the evidence.
God is above all. He is moral, pure and right. He is the judge of all. He has the right and the power to enforce His perfect will. He demands and deserves to be followed. This is not a new idea. It is a solidly American concept. When the American Colonies were in conflict with Great Britain, we asserted that we had certain rights and that the might of Britain did not make them right. We made the claim that “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” This statement says that there is a higher objective standard of rights and that all governments and men no matter their power are subject to this higher authority. A good government will protect and defend these standards and a bad government will fail to protect and defend these standards. A bad government will establish its own standards that contradict the standards of God.
Note that the 5th option is the only one that meets our idea of a civil right. At the same time there are many people that bristle at the idea of God. They especially don’t like the idea of a God that will dictate for them standards of right and wrong. They don’t like the idea that there is someone to which they must be subject. At the same time they want an external objective standard of right and wrong. This is what I call a double-cross. They want two things that are contradictory. You can’t have it both ways. Even though the 5th option is the only one that works philosophically, on a practical level we still need to work with all of the other options. For the 5th option to work fully it demands consensus. We will not have consensus as to the existence of God, what His standards are, and our obligation to follow His standards. So we will still deal with the democratic process. We will still have compromises and power struggles.
Question #3 Who gets to decide?
This question is actually two questions:
Who has the authority to decide?
Who has the power to decide or enforce the decision?
Who has the authority to decide?
If we fully accept the conclusions of the discussion above then there is only one person with the authority to decide. That person is God. He has the authority due to His position as creator, and His moral authority as the only one that is pure, holy and just.
Who has the power to enforce the decision?
I bring this up because at some level it still boils down to a question of might. Might, may not make right but might does determine what happens, right or wrong. Who has the power to enforce a decision? The ultimate answer is God. God is all powerful and only He can ultimately enforce a decision.
That sounds good but we know that what we see in the world is not always good and right. We see a lot of evil. That is because even though God has the right and the power to enforce the good He also allows us freewill and self-determination. Sometimes people confuse God’s allowing us freewill with Him giving us permission to do our own thing. God never gives permission to do wrong. God describes this aspect of His character in terms of patience. He warns that we should not mistake His patience for His approval. He is very irritated by our wrongdoing and someday His patience will wear out and we will feel the wrath of His judgment.
Who has the power to enforce? God does and He will. This understanding has led to civilized societies. It is this healthy respect, honor, worship and FEAR of God that has led individuals to adopt and strive for high moral values and has led societies to adopt law and protect rights that are in line with God’s standards.
In the meantime, based on our freewill, we are often caught in a power struggle to make and enforce decisions, right or wrong.
The end of part one
Part Two will take a look at God and His standards as they apply to same sex marriage.