The moral legitimacy of American independence rests on the truth that all men have certain inalienable rights. From that truth flows the right of revolution as well as an explanation of why government is possible and what are its rightful limits and purposes. To protect these natural rights, certain civil rights are found in our federal and state constitutions. And yet some say that these are not enough and offer to the people new “rights” as consideration for the acceptance of leviathan government.

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The 14th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868 to empower the federal government — including particularly federal courts — to stamp out a culture of lawless tyranny and oppression in the South by enforcing basic civil rights of newly freed blacks and their white supporters.  At the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment was the Privileges or Immunities Clause, which the Supreme Court effectively deleted from the Constitution in the 1873 Slaughterhouse Cases. Today, that judicial error continues to take its toll on important freedoms like private property and the right to earn an honest living, which receive virtually no protection from courts despite their obvious importance to ensuring the economic autonomy of the freedmen following the Civil War and all Americans today.

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The Bill of Rights

The framers knew that they could not possibly name all of the legitimate rights of the people. Indeed, as Hamilton expressed in Federalist 84, there was a danger in trying to do so, for if the list left anything out (as it surely would), then there would be a presumption that people lacked the omitted rights and this might be used as a “pretext to claim” that the federal government possessed more than the strictly enumerated powers laid out in Constitution.

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Free Speech

In New Orleans, it is a crime to charge people for a talking tour without first getting permission from the government.

The First Amendment does not allow the government to be in the business of deciding who is—and who is not—allowed to speak about various topics. That is why four New Orleans tour guides have joined with the Institute for Justice in a federal lawsuit seeking to secure their free speech rights.

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What are Rights?

Individuals have rights. But are they natural? And how do they compare and contrast with legal or constitutional rights? Are legal or constitutional rights similar to those inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence? Professor Aeon Skoble distinguishes such constitutional rights, such as the right to vote, from the rights protected by governments and constitutions—natural rights not actually granted by governments themselves.

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Where Do Rights Come From?

Where do rights come from? Prof. Aeon Skoble claims that there are several types of rights that come from various sources. For instance, voting rights and contract rights come from the legal system. Moral rights are the most controversial, with disagreements about their origin. Fortunately, despite these differences of opinion amongst classical liberals, the various theories of rights are similar in practice.

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