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January 21, 2022

True Unalienable Rights

by Professor Robert J. Barth

True Unalienable Rights

Inalienability presupposes that it is the Creator, not man, who endows us with certain unalienable gifts— unalienable rights among men. Maybe that is why few people, not even lawyers and judges, use the terms “unalienable” or “inalienable” because to use these terms means an acknowledgment of the Creator to whom we all are accountable. Instead, terms like “fundamental” or “basic” are used to describe certain human rights because these terms describe a high value that society places upon those rights, but that value could change depending on cultural trends.

Such a man-centered perspective was not the thinking of America’s founding fathers. They knew that because the existence of the Creator was self-evident, there were certain gifts from God that could not be legitimately given or taken away. If this were not the case and there were no unalienable rights, then every “right” is subject to being defined, regulated, and even taken away by the civil government or by those with the physical power to do so. The American legal and governmental system was based upon the presupposition that the Creator is, and that there are unalienable rights. 

Perhaps the founding father who best described the truth of unalienable rights is James Madison in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments in 1785. Within his discourse against a proposed bill to use tax dollars to support the teaching of the Christian religion, Madison explained the true meaning of unalienable rights. Based upon the Virginia Constitution’s definition of religion, he stated that what is “a duty towards the Creator” is a “right towards men.” 

This means that no man has the authority to interfere with how one fulfills his duty to the Creator concerning any unalienable gift from the Creator. Madison also said that a right is unalienable “because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men.” 

Madison was not arguing against the Christian faith. In fact, he stated, “It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”  Madison was saying that the civil government does not have jurisdiction to teach the salvific message of Christianity. That is the church’s jurisdiction.

Madison was also not saying that the government was prohibited from acknowledging the Creator God. In fact, to do that would be denying the very foundation of the philosophy of government established in the Declaration of Independence with presupposed the Creator. Madison was simply saying that the message of salvation through faith in Jesus the Christ and the various denominational differences were not the government’s jurisdiction to promote through taxation. Religion involves how one fulfills his/her duties to the Creator, not the mere acknowledgement of the Creator. While the latter is necessary for the former; the latter can be the basis of a philosophy of government without dictating the former.


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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.

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