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 Oct 13, 2003 00:19 PDT 


                      James Roger Brown

Under the general principle that law incorporates punishment for
proscribed behavior, it can be argued that Natural Law exists. All human
acts have consequences. Under the processes of nature, some acts result
in immediate death, some acts result in injury that precludes repeating
the act, and some acts are innocuous in that they have no apparent
consequences that can be construed as punishment when compared with the
consequences of violating human law. Under such a system of Natural Law,
those human acts that, in and of themselves, do not result in death or
do not result in self-limiting consequences that prevent repeating the
act can be thought of as Natural Rights.

One major inconvenience with Natural Laws and Natural Rights is that
they are not codified. There is no central reference one can examine to
determine what adverse natural consequences are attached to a
contemplated act. There are no written instructions for resolving
conflicts between individuals exercising contrary or contradictory
Natural Rights. Compounding this ambiguity, Natural Law is enforced in a
capricious manner. A specific act may be fatal for one person and
nonfatal for the next person. For example, most people whose primary and
secondary parachutes fail when they sky dive are killed. A few have
survived such long falls.

At the individual level, knowledge about natural prohibited acts is
acquired from personal experience or observation of consequences to
others. At the social level, families, tribes, and civilizations only
have such understanding of Natural Law as can be derived from their
collective experience. The vastly different conclusions that can be
derived from the limited experiences of Natural Laws manifested in
specific geographic areas are perhaps the major source of cultural

By defining nonfatal and non-self-limiting acts as Natural Rights
provides a logical foundation for examining the controversial claims of
smokers and homosexuals that their conduct is based on Natural Rights.
Using this definition of Natural Rights, one must conclude that smoking
and homosexual acts are Natural Rights. Smoking in and of itself does
not result in immediate death. A homosexual act does not in and of
itself result in immediate death. (For those who would point out that
long term smoking results in diseases that are fatal and homosexual acts
are fatal for those who develop AIDS, I would argue that those diseases
are the result of the abuse of a Natural Right, not the simple exercise
of a Natural Right.)

A reasonable person will correctly point out that man does not live by
Natural Rights alone. All the various nonfatal dietary belief systems
can be claimed as grounded in Natural Rights, including cannibalism.
Arbitrarily killing other human beings can be claimed as a Right under
Natural Law. Having voluntary or involuntary sex with children can be
claimed as a right under Natural Law. Owning slaves can be claimed as a
right under Natural Law. Social Darwinism seeks to justice unequal
distributions of wealth as the result of a Natural Law of the survival
of the fittest. In fact, quite an extensive list of nonlethal and
non-self-limiting acts can be claimed as rights under Natural Law.

Whether folly or genius, human beings have collectively chosen to
recognize other systems of Rights as filters for regulating human
behavior. Some rights claimed under Natural Law can survive these
additional standards but many cannot. Human beings, to varying degrees
across different cultures, have recognized and defined Primary Rights,
Secondary Rights, Preventive Rights, Remedial Rights, Constitutional
Rights, Human Rights, Parental Rights, and Children’s Rights. Numerous
ethnic groups and subcultures have also defined and claimed certain
additional Rights that apply only to themselves as special classes of
people. For example, Jews claim a God given exclusive right to create
and occupy the nation of Israel. This example also demonstrates what can
happen when different individuals or groups claim rights that are in
direct conflict. Palestinians strongly disagree with Jews on who has the
right to occupy the land inside the current boundaries of Israel.

In addition to the various systems of general Rights and special Rights
claimed by specific groups, human beings have added cultural and
religious beliefs, national and state laws, corporate special interests,
political doctrines, organized crime and other sources of conflict.
Navigating this minefield of social conflict provides full time work for
law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, legislators, diplomats, and
religious leaders.

There have been many attempts to address the questions raised by
exercising individual rights while minimizing social conflict and harm
to others. Through Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1, Shakespeare* artfully
summarizes the carnage such conflicts can bring into an individual’s
life and some of the questions of balance that must be answered to live
a quality life.

One of the most profound sources of insights and instructions for the
responsible exercise of freedom is the Christian New Testament. Early
Christians really struggled to make the transition from daily lives
completely controlled by Judaic Code to a set of values that would
accommodate the cultural differences of gentiles converting to
Christianity. The resolutions they reached regarding conflicting rights
have direct application to deciding how best to deal with those who
claim rights that one may personally considers offensive, such as
smoking and homosexuality. Their early examples also provide guidance in
how persons who want to engage in acts that offend others should and
should not conduct themselves.

Romans 14, subtitled “Principles of Conscience,” addresses conflicts
over which days of the week are sacred and disputes over what is
acceptable to eat. While the following citations are limited to these
two issue, the insights can be applied to other conflicts:

“1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of
passing judgment on his opinions.
2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats
vegetables only.
3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and
let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted
. . . .
5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day
alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.
. . . .
13 Therefore let us not judge one another any more, but rather determine
this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in
itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer
walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom
Christ died.
16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness
and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
. . . .
19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the
building up of one another.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things
indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives
21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by
which your brother stumbles.”

Some smokers and homosexuals use their claimed Rights as weapons to
maliciously engage in the emotional mugging of those whom they know will
be offended. This conduct is addressed in 1 Peter 2:15-16:**

15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the
ignorance of foolish men.
16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil,
but use it as bondslaves of God.

What under-appreciated wisdom! One does not have to become a Christian
to see the peaceful benefits of using these principles in the exercise
of individual Rights and in the recognition of the Rights of others. One
does not have to convert to Christianity to apply these insights to
achieve a balanced life.

These citations are not comprehensive, but are sufficient to make
certain points regarding the exercise of offensive claimed Rights.
First, we should be very careful about condemning other people just
because they are doing something that makes us uncomfortable. There is
wisdom in tolerance of nondestructive acts that pass through all the
various Rights filters. Tolerance contributes to human peace.

Second, even if one does not recognize moral and spiritual obligations
in choosing to exercise specific Rights, every human being has at least
a social obligation to avoid maliciously angering or irritating others.
The logic of enlightened self-interest alone is sufficient to see the
foolishness of intentionally angering those one must live among by
engaging in conduct known to offend them.

Those who use the exercise of Rights as a stick to poke others in the
eye, those who maliciously conspire to seek the destruction of groups of
people deemed inconvenient to the exercise of their Rights, and those
who seek to have their Rights placed above those of their neighbors are
contemptible, dishonorable and debase both themselves and those

*Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:

**New American Standard Translation

© Copyright by James Roger Brown, October 12, 2003. All rights reserved.
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