Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 8

Initiating Reform

The only real security that you can have for all your important rights must be in the nature of your government. If you suffer any man to govern you who is not strongly interested in supporting your privileges, you will certainly lose them.
Founding Father Roger Sherman

Some are turned away from Christianity because they see Christians as judgmental. Many more are turned away because they see them as pansies. Stop retreating and you might earn some respect.
Mike S. Adams, university professor, author, free speech advocate—

Part 7 is available here.

A woman went to her lawyer and told him she wanted to divorce her husband. “Do you have grounds?” the lawyer asked.

“Yeah, we’ve got about two acres. We have our house on it, and a garden. It’s really nice.”

The lawyer tried again. “Do you have a grudge?”

“Yes. We have a two-car garage. We keep our cars in it, as well as the mower and some tools to keep the yard up.”

The lawyer couldn’t believe what he was hearing and decided to take yet another approach. “Does your husband beat you up?”

“It depends on what’s going on,” responded the woman. “Sometimes I get up before he does and sometimes he gets up before I do. Neither one of us is much of a morning person.”

Maybe a more direct approach will work, thought the lawyer. “OK” he said, “Let me ask you this. Why do you want to divorce your husband?”

The woman threw up her arms in exasperation and cried, “Well, you just can’t communicate with the guy!”

The Problem

This story is both humorous and sad, but it also reflects the cultural divide that exists in America today with regard to rights and liberty. On one side you have the liberals—or the progressives, as they like to be called—vying for “equality” and “rights.” On the other side are conservatives who only want things we also could call equality and rights—but to each side, these terms refer to different things. I am not saying that progressives or conservatives are as ditzy as was the woman who spoke to her lawyer. I am saying that when you have a situation where the same words mean different things to parties on opposite sides of an issue, the impasse that likely already exists is strengthened even more.

When a God-fearing, religious individual who is, say, a baker or a photographer, wants merely to be able to politely opt out of an opportunity to do work at or for a same-sex wedding, he or she might say to the individual requesting services, “I’m sorry, I don’t do gay weddings. The business two blocks down the street does, and it would do a great job for you.” In explaining the decision, the business owner almost certainly would affirm, “I will gladly do business with gays and lesbians in other contexts, but I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I have a right to follow my conscience and my religious convictions. It’s my First Amendment right.”

Well, the same-sex couple planning to “marry” may hear this explanation with their ears, but here is what many believe the vendor is really saying: I have a right to discriminate against you and to treat you in a manner different from my other customers. The customer concludes that hate has driven the vendor to refuse him or her the service requested. After all, what else could? Refusing to do business for a gay wedding can’t be tolerated, because everyone must tolerate—and here the definition of tolerate also means to affirm and even to celebrate—the lifestyle the ceremony is highlighting.

Why would a gay or lesbian individual respond this way? In a previous post, we observed (citations have been omitted),

[O]ne hundred years ago, people viewed homosexuality as a behavior. (By the way, this is exactly the way Scripture sees it and treats it.) Fifty years ago, society viewed it as a condition. Our culture today sees it as an identity. This is [a big] reason gays and lesbians have difficulty understanding Christians’ claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” A gay man believes, “If you hate homosexuality, you must hate me, because that’s who I am.”

Believers in man-woman marriage make a mistake when they fail to understand this perspective on the part of those working to incorporate the liberal perspective on rights into law and public policy. Understanding this point of view is not only foundational to showing genuine compassion; it’s also an essential part of effective efforts to secure conscience protections in the law. Having said that, we also must not be naïve. We have to understand that the progressive and conservative perspectives on rights and liberty cannot coexist long-term. One must emerge the winner; one must prevail over the other.

Despite what progressives believe, it isn’t hate that compels a Christian vendor to decline to do business for those wanting a same-sex wedding. Rather, it’s the vendor’s bedrock convictions about what marriage really is. Progressives make a mistake when they fail to understand this. A believer in man-woman marriage absolutely can respect gays and lesbians as persons and be a friend to them, yet disagree with them about the nature of marriage.

Cynthia and Robert Gifford are sterling examples of this perspective. Owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, they occasionally would allow their barn to be used as a wedding venue. Because of their religious beliefs, however, they turned down a lesbian couple who inquired about holding their same-sex ceremony at Liberty Ridge. The couple complained to the New York Division of Human Rights, which subsequently ruled the Giffords illegally had discriminated against the two women. The state agency levied a $10,000 fine on the Giffords, but that wasn’t all. It also ordered them to pay an additional $3,000 in damages and required them to implement classes to reeducate their staff on the definition of marriage. The content of the classes, of course, directly contradicted what the Giffords’ deeply held beliefs.

In November of 2015 when the Giffords appealed their case to a 5-judge panel at the New York Supreme Court, Cynthia said,

When the government tells you what to say and punishes you if you don’t, it’s very frightening. And all of us Americans should be scared about this, no matter where we stand on the issue.…We respect and care for everyone! We had an openly gay man working for us this past season. We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.

Unfortunately, early this year, the panel upheld the ruling of the state agency. A few weeks later, after considering the matter thoroughly, the Giffords elected not to appeal the ruling.

Do not miss what has happened here. Keep in mind that Liberty Ridge Farm is not only the Giffords’ private property, it’s also their home.1 Moreover, Cynthia and Robert Gifford don’t discriminate against homosexuals. They even had a gay man working for them! If progressives prevail in implementing their perspective on rights, you can be sure that government will intervene to take away conscience rights from otherwise law-abiding citizens, just as they are beginning to do now. If conservatives prevail, no one will be denied any service he or she seeks, but those who have deeply held convictions will be free to follow them without losing their businesses or livelihoods. Live and let live. Isn’t this what we’ve heard from gay-rights activists for decades? Now we see that their way is really a one-way street. Only the conservative perspective allows for a true live-and-let-live approach.

If progressives prevail in implementing their perspective on rights, you can be sure that government will intervene to take away conscience rights from otherwise law-abiding citizens, just as they are beginning to do now. If conservatives prevail, no one will be denied any service he or she seeks, but those who have deeply held convictions will be free to follow them without losing their businesses or livelihoods.

Let’s put it another way. To a large extent, at its core, this debate is about the nature of rights. If you haven’t yet read the previous post on two kinds of rights, be aware it contains information you must know to clearly understand the current debate. It is undeniable that progressives (not all, but at least some and perhaps most), are demanding that everyone agree with them and celebrate with them. Those who don’t join willingly will have to be coerced. This is how they acquire the positive rights they seek, “rights” that align with the contemporary, liberal view of rights. How different the conservative approach is! It isn’t just respectful of all, it’s consistent with the beliefs of America’s Founders. Religious business owners only want their negative rights to be honored, not just with regard to marriage, but also life. “If you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one!” we’ve been told for years. Now pharmacists—even those with convictions against abortion—are being told they must dispense abortifacient drugs. And the Supreme Court, apparently, is all too willing to go along! This does not portend well for religious liberty!

A Horrific Event Rightly Sparks Outrage

An event from the early days of the civil rights movement is instructive for us with regard to these issues today. Have you heard of Emmett Till? Born in 1941, he was an African-American from Chicago. When he was 14 years old, he was visiting family in a small town called Money, Mississippi. As we might expect, the racism in the area was more intense than Till had encountered in Chicago, even though Emmett had been a student at a racially segregated elementary school in the Windy City. Till’s mother had encouraged her son to exercise caution, but his love of practical jokes caused him to make some very bad decisions.


On August 24, 1955, a Wednesday, Emmett was hanging out with some cousins and friends outside a store in the small Mississippi town. Emmett told his buddies he had a white girlfriend back home. Responding with disbelief, they dared him to go into the store and to flirt with the white woman behind the counter. On his way out of the store after buying candy, Emmett is reported to have spoken to her, saying, “Bye, baby.” The woman behind the counter was Carolyn Bryant, the store owner’s wife. She subsequently accused Till of making advances to her and of whistling at her as he strolled out of the store.

Several days later Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband, returned from a business trip. Outraged to learn about what had occurred, Bryant and a relative, J. W. Milam, went over to the home of Emmett’s great-uncle, Moses Wright, where the young man was staying. This occurred during the dark of night, at around 2:30 in the morning on August 28. They kidnapped Emmett, forced him into their car, and drove off. The men “beat the teenager brutally, dragged him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan and shoved his mutilated body into the water.”

Three days later, Emmett’s remains were found in the Tallahatchie River. His great-uncle was able to identify him only because the teenager had been wearing a special ring that once had belonged to Emmett’s father. History.com reports,

Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested it be sent back to Chicago. After seeing the mutilated remains, she decided to have an open-casket funeral so that all the world could see what racist murderers had done to her only son. Jet, an African American weekly magazine, published a photo of Emmett’s corpse, and soon the mainstream media picked up on the story.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murdering Emmett Till in September of 1955. Since they couldn’t be retried, they later publicly admitted they had killed the young man. The murder was even the subject of an interview in Look magazine in 1956. While the town initially supported the two men, after the Look article was published, Bryant and Milam were shunned by the community.

Emmett Till’s murder is considered to be an important catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in its early days. It occurred just one year after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools must end.


Also, biography.com notes that just one hundred days after Till’s death, Rosa Parks remained in her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama rather than surrendering it to a white passenger. Parks later said, “I thought about Emmett Till, and I couldn’t go back [to the back of the bus].”

What Needs to Happen

I need to be very careful here, because my use of the story of Emmett Till’s terrible murder easily can be misunderstood. How does the Till case relate to marriage? My point is not that all progressives have had vindictive and hateful motives like those of Emmett’s killers—even though some really do want to destroy marriage and have admitted as much. I’m sure in their minds, many believe they are contending for a noble cause. The harsh reality, however, is that the results of their efforts are extremely destructive—for families, for authentic liberty, for children’s well-being, and for societal stability.

With regard to the life issue, claims to support abortion for the “noble cause” of women’s health increasingly ring hollow. How can Texas lawmakers’ efforts to enhance women’s health standards when abortions are performed be considered an “undue burden”? Well, in making abortion safe for women, the law was deemed to make an abortion of any kind harder to obtain. Are abortion advocates really in favor of unsafe abortions? One has reason to wonder.

Mamie Bradley, Emmett Till’s mother, courageously ordered an open casket at her son’s memorial service to expose the horrific results of racism. She is a model for us! We need leaders in the conservative movement who will be as bold as she was, leaders who will highlight and expose the harmful effects of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and all the “rights” flowing from same-sex unions, including parenting (see also this webpage). Fortunately, the number of such leaders for life has been increasing in recent years, but we now need a host of spokesmen who will uphold God-ordained marriage!

We have said that the debate over marriage is one about rights. This conflict pits those favoring limited government against those advocating increased government intervention. It is significant that the Supreme Court would, on the one hand, uphold government regulations requiring pharmacists to violate their conscience rights, yet, on the other, strike down regulations meant to protect the safety of women. We need no more evidence than this that the government has turned completely away from the Founders’ perspective on rights and is promoting the opposite of what they advocated. We’re facing tyranny because of it, and—again—we need leaders who are willing to expose this in all its ugliness!

Elections are important, and of course I believe we must elect leaders who will work diligently to return America to its founding principles (see the quote from Founding Father Roger Sherman at the top of this post). However, now more than ever, we need to see an uprising from the people themselves. It needs to be a godly uprising and a peaceful uprising, but it must be an uprising, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights era, and the likes of which gave birth to this country in the first place.

As Christians, we have been rightly concerned about the need to express love and compassion to those who disagree with us. Yet I fear we have let this concern overshadow our responsibility to speak prophetically. The quote at the top from Dr. Mike Adams bears repeating here: “Some are turned away from Christianity because they see Christians as judgmental. Many more are turned away because they see them as pansies. Stop retreating and you might earn some respect.”

Drastic Measures Required

Our Founders were eloquent, yet they were clear about citizens’ responsibilities when faced with living under an illegitimate government. This coming Monday we honor their commitment to these words and to the country they were so instrumental in founding.


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. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.


The Founders went on to say (I’m paraphrasing here) that while no steps should be taken lightly, there comes a time to take action. I’m certainly not advocating overthrowing the United States government, but I do believe there needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles—again, much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement. Some laws must be peacefully resisted through civil disobedience.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail about how an otherwise law-abiding citizen could advocate breaking some laws, even as he or she obeyed others. King explained that “there are two kinds of laws: just laws…and unjust laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Pastors must help their people understand these and a host of other related biblical principles. Government has authority, but not absolute authority. Because the state’s authority is delegated, government is capable of abusing its power. It must be held accountable. Christians have duties to obey God and government, but when these two duties conflict, they must obey God. (Here is a Bible study exploring the Christian’s duty before God to the state.) By the way, in a recent book, Dr. King’s niece, Alveda King, wrote of how her uncle would be an advocate for life and natural marriage if he were alive today.

Francis Schaeffer wrote, “It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation to such a tyrannical usurping of power.”

Pastors must be on the front lines of the effort to restore America to its founding principles.

Despite the potential cost, we also need more “ordinary people” who are willing to step up to the plate and stand true to their convictions, just as Cynthia and Robert Gifford, as well as others, have done. And we need to support these godly men and women and stand with them—praying for them, encouraging them, and giving to help them financially.

Of course, there are additional things we can do to set the stage for this movement.

  • Pray that God would raise up leaders who will, in the likeness of the prophets of old, declare His truth to the masses.
  • Do not let a legitimate desire to express compassion and love overshadow your duty to declare and live out the truth.
  • Speak up! Share your convictions in appropriate ways with family members, friends, and acquaintances.
  • Teach your children about worldviews and that the biblical worldview is the only one that aligns with reality.
  • Learn about American history and the Founders’ views on government, liberty, and rights. Teach this history to your kids. WallBuilders is an excellent resource for you to use in this effort, as is WallBuilders Live!, the ministry’s daily radio program.
  • Teach your children to respect governmental authority, but
  • warn them about how government can abuse it. Government is inefficient, costly, and has an intoxicating effect on leaders and the public. Government may look like a benefactor, but it can offer only those resources it has taken from citizens and businesses through taxes and regulations. Despite appearances, government is not compassion, but force. Government’s good intentions often have very bad unintended consequences.
  • Using this series of posts, educate yourself and teach your children about the difference between positive and negative rights, the perils of the former, and the liberating qualities of the latter.
  • Resist government handouts. Never buy a lottery ticket. The lottery is legalized exploitation of the poor—and government is orchestrating it!
  • Participate in the political process. Become informed about candidates, and vote according to godly principles.
  • Take the pledge Franklin Graham is encouraging people nationwide to take on his Decision America Tour.

We are living in challenging times. Just today, June 30, 2016, the Obama administration made an important announcement about the military. It now will lift the ban on transgenders serving openly. Here is Tony Perkins’s take on this news, courtesy of the Family Research Council’s Washington Update

While terrorism’s latest victims overwhelm Turkish hospitals and airports everywhere lock down their security, our president is ensuring that America’s military will continue be too distracted and fractured to cope with any of these crises. In a move today—one that completes the administration’s long-term project of dismantling one of the latest bastions of American tradition—Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially welcomed the gender confused into the military’s fold at a press conference formally declaring open transgenderism in the ranks of the military. The world is facing some of the greatest evil ever unleashed on innocents and the President’s plan for combatting it is letting men dress like women (and vice-versa) in our fighting force? Is this his plan for striking fear in ISIS’s hearts?

Has our nation gone completely mad? Have its leaders? We have to point our country in the direction of recovery! Let’s elect wise leaders—yes—but let’s also initiate reform from the bottom up!

I do not believe God is through with America yet, but it’s hard to think of a time when prayer and repentance were more urgently needed than they are today. God’s people need to wake up, look up, and speak up!

Will you be a part of the movement to renew and reform America?


1One is reminded of the Third Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbids government from housing troops in private homes during peacetime. Many details between the two situations are different, but the significant similarity is the issue of government’s forcing private citizens to use their homes in a particular way.

Epilogue: The Duty to Warn

Update on the Emmett Till murder case


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Top image credit: Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech”

Websites and videos in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.



Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 7

Eight Reasons Obergefell Has Derailed America
The Importance of Rediscovering the Authentic American Way

[F]or avoiding the extremes of despotism or anarchy…the only ground of hope must be on the morals of the people. I believe that religion is the only solid base of morals and that morals are the only possible support of free governments.
Gouverneur Morris, signer of the US Constitution, author of large sections of the Constitution—


Founding Father Gouverneur Morris

Part 6 is available here.

As I write these words on Friday, June 24, 2016, this coming weekend is sandwiched between two all-American holidays—Father’s Day and Independence Day. Let’s consider each one briefly.

Father’s Day

In the United States, the genesis of Father’s Day as a national holiday can be traced to several events taking place in the early 20th century. One of these was a heartbreaking tragedy. On Friday, December 6, 1907, an accident occurred Monongah, West Virginia that has been called “the worst mining disaster in American history.” At 10:28 a.m. an explosion tore through two mines owned by the Fairmont Coal Company. Inside were 367 men, most of whom perished instantly. Unfortunately, those who survived the initial blast had little chance of being rescued because the support timbers and ventilation systems in the mines also were severely damaged or destroyed. Moreover, in those days, rescuers did not have life-preserving oxygen masks, so they were exposed to toxic fumes as they labored to free trapped workers. Each rescue trip had a time limit of 15 minutes. Lacking the means to sufficiently clear the mines of toxic gasses, the town lost 362 men. Only one miner was rescued while four managed to escape.


Of those who died in the Monongah Mining disaster, 250 were fathers. Their children numbered at around 1,000. Mrs Grace Golden Clayton, daughter of a Methodist pastor, had lost her own father in 1896. Mrs. Clayton was deeply touched by these losses and the struggles their families were having in the weeks and months that followed. She suggested to her pastor, Dr. Robert T. Webb, that their church, located in nearby Fairmont, hold a service to honor fathers. Later recalling the request, Mrs. Clayton said, “It was partly the explosion that set me to think how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such an awful time.”

The service was held on July 5, 1908, just three days before Rev. Golden’s July 8th birthday. Many years later, in 1962, an effort was gathering steam to place a day honoring fathers on the national calendar. West Virginia Congressman Arch Moore received a letter from a gentleman named Ward Downs. Mr. Downs wrote,

It has recently come to my attention of a movement establishing a Father’s Day by an act of Congress to be observed the same as Mother’s Day. It was my privilege to have attended the first Father’s Day Service July 5, 1908 at the Williams Memorial M.E. Church, South, now the Central United Methodist Church, Fairmont, WV. The sermon was preached by Dr. R. T. Webb at the request of Mrs. Charles Clayton, a member of that congregation, and daughter of a Methodist minister. I recall the occasion very distinctly as the pulpit was decorated by having ripened sheaves of wheat placed about it. Many favorable comments by the individuals and the press were made concerning the service at that time. Any assistance you can give this movement will be very much appreciated by me and all the Methodists in this part of the country.

Despite Mr. Downs’s fond memory of the service, other events in the area, including a 4th of July celebration and the death of a young woman, overshadowed it. City and state proclamations establishing a day to honor fathers, therefore, weren’t a top priority at the time.

Another effort to honor fathers was spearheaded by Sonora Smart Dodd in Spokane, Washington. Dodd’s father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran. As a single dad he had raised six children. Having heard in 1909 about Anna Jarvis’s efforts to establish a special day honoring mothers, Dodd told her pastor she believed fathers should be similarly recognized. Because her father’s birthday was June 5, Dodd suggested that date. More time was needed for preparation of sermons, however, so the recognition was held on June 19, 1910. The Spokane YMCA hosted the event. Making it official, the mayor of Spokane and the Governor of Washington State issued proclamations.

Additional efforts were made at various times and places to set aside a day to honor fathers, but it wasn’t until 1966 that a presidential proclamation was issued establishing a national holiday called Father’s Day. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued that proclamation.


Six years later, on May 1 of 1972, President Nixon issued a proclamation echoing an April, 1972 joint resolution of Congress that from that point forward, Father’s Day would be commemorated nationwide every year on the third Sunday in June.


Consider these statements in Nixon’s proclamation.

To have a father—to be a father—is to come very near the heart of life itself.

In fatherhood we know the elemental magic and joy of humanity. In fatherhood we even sense the divine, as the Scriptural writers did who told of all good gifts coming “down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”—symbolism so challenging to each man who would give his own son or daughter a life of light without shadow.

Our identity in name and nature, our roots in home and family, our very standard of manhood—all this and more is the heritage our fathers share with us. It is a rich patrimony, one for which adequate thanks can hardly be offered in a lifetime, let alone a single day. Still it has long been our national custom to observe each year one special Sunday in honor of America’s fathers; and from this year forward, by a joint resolution of the Congress approved April 24, 1972, that custom carries the weight of law.

So, in the histories of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we see that honoring one’s parents and celebrating one’s family are authentic American traditions. Yet today, these holidays threaten the politically correct message that the Left wishes to promote. The conservative information site conservapedia.com states of Father’s Day,

There has been liberal opposition to Father’s Day, wanting to replace it with “Family Day”. This concept was created in Canada due to the legislation of same-sex “marriage” as it was felt to be unfair to adopted children of same-sex couples. Such a move has been opposed by many normal parents who do not want to see this tradition being overtaken by political correctness. The Liberal opposition do not seem to care about honoring the role of the father, which is highly important for the support and the guidance for children.

Nor do the liberal opposition seem to care that same-sex marriage deprives children adopted by same-sex parents of either a mother or a father—by design! President Herbert Hoover was absolutely right when he observed, “Children are our greatest natural resource.” Walt Disney said something very similar: “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.”

Because they are unnatural, the unions forged by same-sex marriage cannot bring children into the world. Moreover, depriving children of either a mother or a father by design will have severe repercussions for a nation’s future. I am not saying here that parents in same-sex unions cannot love their children; of course they can—and they do! What I am saying is that men and women are different. No man ever can be a mother, nor can any woman truly be a father.

What about single parents? They obviously meet their children’s needs as best they can, and many of them are fabulous parents. We who are not in their shoes may well wonder how they do all they do as well as they do in less-than-ideal situations. Even so, a single-parent home doesn’t eliminate the concept of a mom and dad! Same-sex marriage destroys that concept, to the detriment a nation’s children and that nation’s future. Together, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day affirm the absolute best design for the family. We have departed from it at great cost, and it is imperative that we return.

In the United States, Father’s Day can come as early as June 15 (19 days before Independence Day) or as late as June 21 (13 days prior).

Independence Day

Independence Day, of course, commemorates the ratification of the declaration of the American Colonies’ independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence showcases the date of July 4, 1776, although July 4 actually wasn’t the date signatures were affixed.

In the early days of the republic, Independence Day was not merely a national birthday celebration. It was a sacred day. Hear these words from an oration delivered in Newburyport, Massachusetts on July 4, 1837 by former President John Quincy Adams. At the time, Mr. Adams had already been president (1825-1829) and was representing Massachusetts’s 12th district in the US House of Representatives.


Why is it, Friends and Fellow Citizens, that you are here assembled? Why is it, that, entering upon the sixty-second year of our national existence, you have honored with an invitation to address you from this place, a fellow citizen of a former age, bearing in the records of his memory, the warm and vivid affections which attached him, at the distance of a full half century, to your town, and to your forefathers, then the cherished associates of his youthful days? Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day?…

Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?

Cast your eyes backwards upon the progress of time, sixty-one years from this day; and in the midst of the horrors and desolations of civil war, you behold an assembly of Planters, Shopkeepers and Lawyers, the Representatives of the People of thirteen English Colonies in North America, sitting in the City of Philadelphia. These fifty-five men, on that day, unanimously adopt and publish to the world, a state paper under the simple title of ‘A DECLARATION.’

The object of this Declaration was two-fold.

First, to proclaim the People of the thirteen United Colonies, one People, and in their name, and by their authority, to dissolve the political bands which had connected them with another People, that is, the People of Great Britain.

Secondly, to assume, in the name of this one People, of the thirteen United Colonies, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station, to which the Laws of Nature, and of Nature’s God, entitled them.

You can read former President Adams’s complete speech here. We’ve quoted enough of it, however, to be reminded of the importance of this phrase in the Declaration of Independence: the laws of nature and of nature’s God. This phrase takes on even greater significance today, in 2016, as politically correct voices repudiate these two forces in both words and actions.

The One-Year Anniversary of an Ominous Event

It’s ironic that sandwiched in between Father’s Day and Independence Day—this year almost precisely in the middle—is June 26, the one-year anniversary of perhaps the most egregious overreach of the United States Supreme Court. As you are no doubt aware, on June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, striking down laws nationwide that limited the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ruling came just two days shy of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, an event that militant homosexual rights advocates point to as a turning point and an historical coalescing of their movement.

President Obama has designated June as LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Pride Month in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016—each year he has been in office. As one would expect, his most recent proclamation (2016) speaks of Obergefell in glowing terms.

Last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality in all 50 States was a historic victory for LGBT Americans, ensuring dignity for same-sex couples and greater equality across State lines. For every partnership that was not previously recognized under the law and for every American who was denied their basic civil rights, this monumental ruling instilled newfound hope, affirming the belief that we are all more free when we are treated as equals.

During the past several weeks, we have demonstrated that the “right” to same-sex marriage is based on a philosophy of rights that stands in direct opposition to the philosophy of rights embraced by America’s Founders. In summary, we can confidently say that man-woman marriage deprives no one of his or her civil rights, and to suggest that it does is to totally misrepresent the truth about marriage, the family unit, American history, liberty, authentic freedom, cohesiveness in society, and all the rights afforded to individuals by nature and nature’s God.

Man-woman marriage deprives no one of his or her civil rights, and to suggest that it does is to totally misrepresent the truth about marriage, the family unit, American history, liberty, authentic freedom, cohesiveness in society, and all the rights afforded to individuals by nature and nature’s God.

As you may recall, on the evening of June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell, the Obama administration went out of its way to express support for the decision by lighting the White House in rainbow colors.

As we observed in a post from April of last year,

We can be assured that God is keenly aware of divine signs and images that are being misrepresented today. Thousands of years ago, God placed the first rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His faithfulness after the flood of Noah (see Gen. 9:8-17), but in 2015 many people see rainbow colors and celebrate evil in the name of the politically correct principles of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness.’ Then there’s marriage—a sacred institution ordained and instituted by God (see Gen. 2:18-25) as well as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church (see Eph. 5:22-32). Needless to say, that picture is being muddied and distorted everywhere people look. If marriage is redefined in America, how can it possibly continue to represent in society anything close to the relationship God ordained it to represent? If we lose marriage, we lose an image that helps people understand why Christ died. While we cannot expect non-Christians to act as Christians, neither can we ignore the fact that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for many years upheld these ideals. Yet in recent decades in this country, we have, as a nation, kicked God out of public life. Given all the opportunities we as Americans have had to hear and respond to God’s truth, we must understand that God will hold us accountable.

“Gay Pride” celebrations occur frequently in June, and many will be held this coming weekend, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, St. Petersburg, and Nashville. Please pray about these events and for those who participate in them, that they will come to see the truth and that they’ll recognize the perilous risk thrust upon America and America’s children by same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

Pray for another event as well. Thankfully, homosexual rights advocates aren’t the only ones expressing their point of view—but you’d never know this by listening to the mainstream press. On Saturday, June 25, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the annual March for Marriage will take place at the National Mall in Washington, DC. No amount of maneuvering on the part of government can change the reality that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, but pretending marriage is anything else will cause great harm, and we need to be unafraid to articulate this truth.


On this weekend marking the one year anniversary of Obergefell—a foreboding anniversary situated between the authentic American holidays of Father’s Day and Independence Day—I’d like to demonstrate that same-sex marriage and the positive rights flowing from it are wholly un-American. They’re even anti-American. Consider these eight realities. 

First, the real American way embraces free speech and open debate in the marketplace of ideas. In fact, at the founding of the country, free speech and personal integrity were so cherished that no one thought of trying to adjust his or her position so as to attract a greater number.

Modern Americans are assaulted by misguided calls for “bipartisanship,” a code word for one side ceding its ideas to the party favored by the media. In fact, however, [Founding Father James] Madison detested compromise that involved abandoning principles, and, in any event, thought the Republic was best served when factions [groups with opposing viewpoints, especially political parties] presented extreme differences to the voters, rather than shading their positions toward the middle. The modern moderate voters—so highly praised in the media—would have been anathema to Madison, who wanted people to take sides as a means of creating checks and balances. 1

Thus, while at the time of the founding rigorous debate was considered healthy, with Obergefell, the Supreme Court effectively choked it off! As Justice Clarence Thomas said in his dissent (citations have been omitted to enhance readability),

The majority [of this court making this decision] apparently disregards the political process as a protection for liberty. Although men, in forming a civil society, “give up all the power necessary to the ends for which they unite into society, to the majority of the community,” they reserve the authority to exercise natural liberty within the bounds of laws established by that society. To protect that liberty from arbitrary interference, they establish a process by which that society can adopt and enforce its laws. In our country, that process is primarily representative government at the state level, with the Federal Constitution serving as a backstop for that process. As a general matter, when the States act through their representative governments or by popular vote, the liberty of their residents is fully vindicated. This is no less true when some residents disagree with the result; indeed, it seems difficult to imagine any law on which all residents of a State would agree. What matters is that the process established by those who created the society has been honored.

That process has been honored here. The definition of marriage has been the subject of heated debate in the States. Legislatures have repeatedly taken up the matter on behalf of the People, and 35 States have put the question to the People themselves. In 32 of those 35 States, the People have opted to retain the traditional definition of marriage. That petitioners disagree with the result of that process does not make it any less legitimate. Their civil liberty has been vindicated.

Second, the debate over conscience rights isn’t a debate over whether or not same-sex couples will be allowed to “marry.” No same-sex couple wanting a ceremony has been or will be unable to arrange it; every gay and lesbian couple has complete freedom to orchestrate the outcome they want. Yet if they honor the conscience rights of religious vendors, they may not be able to have a particular vendor for one job or another. Is it truly the American way to single people out and force them to act against their most deeply held convictions? Of course not! As we noted last week, and as Founding Father James Madison declared, “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” 

Third, generally speaking, those who have objected to hosting or otherwise participating in same-sex weddings or civil unions have not hesitated to do business with homosexuals in a wide variety of other contexts. Nevertheless, they believe it wrong to lend their talent and other resources for a “marriage” ceremony—or any ceremony, for that matter—solemnizing a same-sex union. Therefore, the debate isn’t about discrimination against a group of individuals, but about whether or not what one believes about marriage will prevent him or her from acting peacefully on that belief.

Fourth, conscience rights aren’t new, but a part of America’s heritage. Conscience rights are negative rights consistent with the Founders’ view of liberty and limited government. As Justice Thomas indicated in his dissent, the “right” of members of the same sex to “marry” involves government intervention inconsistent with Founding principles and with the Constitution. You may recall that Thomas wrote,

Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. 

Fifth, “Anti-discrimination” laws that essentially say any and all vendors must participate in a same-sex ceremony aren’t really anti-discrimination laws at all. As we have noted, in other contexts, those who object to participating in a same-sex ceremony will gladly and cheerfully do business with gays and lesbians. Thus, rather than leveling the playing field, such laws give homosexual activists carte blanche to target specific vendors and to force them to participate in ceremonies they find objectionable. This makes an absolute mockery of the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The positive “rights” flowing from Obergefell make a mockery of the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws.”

During the years that led up to the Supreme Court’s decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, proponents of same-sex marriage would repeatedly ask this rhetorical question: “Just how is my same-sex marriage going to affect you?” They were making the case that same-sex marriage is a private affair between two consenting adults. The denial of either a father or mother to every child adopted by a same-sex couple is a whole other issue, but activists were appealing to heterosexual adults and making the case that even if they didn’t agree with same-sex marriage, they personally would not be affected by it in any way.

Now we know that a growing number of people are being directly affected. Many are being threatened; some may even lose their livelihoods. Do not be fooled. Forced compliance to the militant gay agenda will not be limited to photographers, bakers, florists, artists, wedding planners, and venue operators. We ought to see this clearly now, especially in light of the push to give biological men who identify as women access to women’s restrooms. Where will it stop? We need to understand that unless we as a nation regain a solid moral footing, it won’t stop! This is blatantly un-American. In fact, it is tyranny.

Sixth, moral objections to homosexuality aren’t new, so homosexual activists can’t claim someone has recently invented a new rationale to discriminate against the gay community. As Eric Metaxas writes,


American freedom is, of course, nothing like pure and unmitigated freedom—which would indeed be anarchy and no freedom at all. True freedom just be an “ordered freedom,” at the center of which is what we call “self-government.” So to be clear: People would not have freedom from government, but would have freedom from tyrannous government, or from government that might easily become tyrannous.”2

Yet today, as we have seen, government has thrown off many of the constitutional restraints that otherwise would prevent it from acting in a tyrannical manner.

Seventh, evidence from the health sciences raises red flags about homosexual activity and, therefore, about legitimizing homosexuality through same-sex marriage. The American way of free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas is not prevailing on this issue today. In our politically correct climate, even professionals with proven track records have hit a brick wall in their efforts to uphold safety and good health by presenting the truth.

Eighth, the belief that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman has been upheld in the civilized world for thousands of years and never was considered a bigoted position until very recently. Furthermore, those who contend this is an unfairly discriminatory point of view can offer no real evidence that gays and lesbians have been harmed by this perspective. Advocates of same-sex marriage make emotional appeals when they claim “discrimination” and call those who disagree with them names. But the evidence is on the side of those who believe marriage to be a lifelong heterosexual union. Also, it is undeniable children do best when they are brought up in homes by their married moms and dads. Listen to this one-minute clip.

The burden of proof for the notion that man-woman marriage is a bigoted position should rest on advocates of same-sex marriage. Simply calling those who disagree with them bigots is no proof. The Supreme Court’s ruling shuts off spirited, healthy, substantive debate and effectively acts to shut up proponents on one side of this issue. Again, this is un-American.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recognize our country as the “land of the free and the home of the brave” (a quotation from the “Star-Spangled Banner”)—and to believe that she even remotely has the capacity to “confirm thy soul in self-control; thy liberty in law” (a quotation from “America the Beautiful”). It is imperative that we rediscover the authentic American way. We must never give up hope that we can return to the ideals embraced by America’s Founders. After all, our God is God of miracles.

Still, we must pray for America, because if God doesn’t act, things are looking pretty desperate.

Next week, in our eighth and final article in this series, we’ll consider ways that, with God’s help, we can lead our country back to the principles on which it was built.

Part 8 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.


Websites in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.


1Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, (New York: Sentinel, 2004), 122.

2Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, (New York, Viking, 2016), 29.





Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 6

How the Government Is Bulldozing Over Conscience Rights to Secure All the “Rights” Associated with Same-Sex Marriage

Our Constitution—like the Declaration of Independence before it—was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from—not provided by—the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside.
—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent on the Obergefell ruling—

Your rights end where mine begin.
Rachel Marsden

Part 5 is available here.

Last week we began to examine Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Obergefell, the case in which five Supreme Court Justices—a razor-thin majority—struck down the all laws in the United States that limited the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. Thomas’s dissent rests on the solid foundation of the Founders’ perspective on liberty and rights. For your convenience and review, here is the first paragraph of his dissent.

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787 [when the Constitution of the United States was drafted and sent to the states for ratification], liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.

Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty.
—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

It is helpful here to recall our prior discussion about negative and positive rights. Negative rights are the rights we enjoy because government is restricted from forbidding or hindering personal activity. Positive rights are “rights” that are secured when government intervenes in citizens’ lives to give them resources or to otherwise enable them to do certain things. America’s Founders upheld the former and abhorred the latter, and they were right to do both. Accordingly, they drafted and ratified the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution, which secured foundational rights of citizens through government limitations.

The Founders, you see, believed the number one purpose of government was to protect property. Really, they did—yet we need to understand all they meant when they used the word property. Historian David Barton, his son Tim Barton, and former Texas legislator Rick Green discuss this very issue on the May 17, 2016 broadcast of the radio program WallBuilders Live! The elder Barton first cites numerous examples in which individuals’ rights to speak and act according to their convictions are being trampled—and he points to the release of the 2016 edition of Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America, which documents hundreds of examples in which people have been denied their Constitutional rights as Americans. The three-man broadcast team forcefully demonstrates that this is not the America our Founders established. (For your convenience, the entire program is available at the end of this post.)

tim-bartonTim Barton: [Founding Father] James Madison said government is instituted to protect property of every sort. So the reason government exists is to protect our property. And there are a whole slew of things that are identified as property. In fact, your money was something that was identified as that, as your own private property. So the government cannot come and take your money. That’s your private property.  Well, James Madison said conscience is the most sacred of all property. So the property that was the most sacred, that government is instituted to protect…is your right of conscience.

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.
Founding Father James Madison

DB_Twitter_400x400David Barton: Now, consider that. The most sacred of all property is conscience, so while we look at a store being robbed, a kid going into a store and shoplifting, we say, get the kid, nail him, he can’t take private property. It’s not his property. It belongs to somebody else. We watch a kid take a baseball bat and whack at somebody else’s car, we say he’s got to pay for the damages; he can’t destroy somebody else’s property. We watch a robber go into a house with a gun; we say he can’t do that; that’s not his property. We yell when the government takes private property. Eminent domain. They can’t do that; they’re not allowed [to do that].

More important than all of that is the government can’t take away from you your right to hear from God, to believe what God told you, and to act on what God said. That’s more important than stopping a robber that comes into your home; protecting that right is more important than stopping a shoplifter; protecting that right is more important than keeping a kid at school from stealing stuff out of your locker or taking your billfold—but we don’t look at it that way. But that’s the way the Founding Fathers looked at it.…The number one purpose for government is to protect property, and the number one property to protect is the rights of conscience. Which means there should be no religious hostility going on— 


Rick Green: But it’s happening!

David Barton: and yet we have it now [in abundance].

Conscience rights, therefore, are sacred; and they’re essentially rights to exercise your religious beliefs freely, without hindrance from the government. With the founding of America, especially through the First Amendment to the US Constitution, “government essentially said, Yes, be religious. We will not only tolerate it; we will respect it and we will encourage it. But we cannot take sides or put our thumbs on the scales. But the understanding of this has been lost to many in modern America.”1

Against this historical backdrop, we can better understand Justice Thomas’s dissent, and just how extreme and unconstitutional the Obergefell ruling really is. Thomas expounds eloquently and powerfully on his opening paragraph. He writes,

Petitioners cannot claim, under the most plausible definition of “liberty,” that they have been imprisoned or physically restrained by the States for participating in same-sex relationships. To the contrary, they have been able to cohabitate and raise their children in peace. They have been able to hold civil marriage ceremonies in States that recognize same-sex marriages and private religious ceremonies in all States. They have been able to travel freely around the country, making their homes where they please. Far from being incarcerated or physically re- strained, petitioners have been left alone to order their lives as they see fit.

Nor, under the broader definition, can they claim that the States have restricted their ability to go about their daily lives as they would be able to absent governmental restrictions. Petitioners do not ask this Court to order the States to stop restricting their ability to enter same-sex relationships, to engage in intimate behavior, to make vows to their partners in public ceremonies, to engage in religious wedding ceremonies, to hold themselves out as married, or to raise children. The States have imposed no such restrictions. Nor have the States prevented petitioners from approximating a number of incidents of marriage through private legal means, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

Instead, the States have refused to grant them governmental entitlements. Petitioners claim that as a matter of “liberty,” they are entitled to access privileges and benefits that exist solely because of the government. They want, for example, to receive the State’s imprimatur on their marriages—on state issued marriage licenses, death certificates, or other official forms. And they want to receive various monetary benefits, including reduced inheritance taxes upon the death of a spouse, compensation if a spouse dies as a result of a work-related injury, or loss of consortium damages in tort suits. But receiving governmental recognition and benefits has nothing to do with any understanding of “liberty” that the Framers would have recognized.

Thus, same-sex marriage by itself violates the Framers’ concept of liberty and rights. This reality is bad enough, but as we have seen in the year since the Obergefell ruling was issued, enshrining this positive right into the practice of American culture has, more than any other governmental action, strengthened the movement for a whole host of additional counterfeit rights—positive rights that trample on the negative—and authentic—rights of ordinary citizens.

This truth was not lost on Justice Thomas (citations have been omitted to enhance readability).

Aside from undermining the political processes that protect our liberty, the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.…

Numerous amici [legal briefs advising this Court]—even some not supporting the States—have cautioned the Court that its decision here will “have unavoidable and wide-ranging implications for religious liberty.” In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well. Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.

The majority appears unmoved by that inevitability. It makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph. And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our Nation’s tradition.

Writing for the majority of justices in Obergefell, Justice Anthony Kennedy had said,

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.

What?! Advocate with utmost, sincere conviction?! Teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths?! The “proper protection” afforded in the First Amendment clearly allows citizens to do things far more substantive than these! Justice Thomas continued in his dissent, poking holes in Kennedy’s weak view of conscience rights and religious liberty.

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons…as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.

On a side note, we need to be aware that it isn’t just the Supreme Court that is refusing to wholeheartedly affirm freedom of religion. Last year in New York City at the sixth annual Women in The World Summit, Hillary Clinton was talking about abortion when she declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” so women can have increased access to “reproductive health care.” One cannot dismiss the idea she feels the same way about convictions that homosexuality is a sin, because she also said, “We move forward when gay and transgendered women are embraced as our colleagues and friends, not fired from their jobs because of who they love.”

Unfortunately, we do not have to look far to find a growing number of examples of what Justice Thomas called “civil restraints…upon religious practice.” Let’s start with this video prepared by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen highlight a great many more examples in their book, You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe. In the first chapter alone, they tell the stories of

The authors also cite two examples with encouraging outcomes, situations involving

Although the above list is long, it isn’t exhaustive. Moreover, defenders of religious liberty continue to join the front lines, even since the recent publication of You Will Be Made to Care on February 22 of this year. Read here and here about Brush and Nib Studio and its owners, Joanna Duka and Breanna Kossi. Thankfully, Alliance Defending Freedom works with clients in proactive strategies as well as defensive ones. In this particular case, ADF is standing in opposition to an unjust Phoenix, Arizona law before it is used against these talented business owners.

Truly, these are men, women, and ministries of whom the world is not worthy (see Heb. 11:37-38). We can thank God for their stands!

Nearly all of these cases are about sex. Erickson and Blankschaen are forthright in their assessment:

Progressives are rabidly committed to expanding the freedom to express oneself sexually without consequences and without criticism. In fact, their right to feel good about their sexual expression trumps your right to express your beliefs about it. You are required to approve and even help them celebrate—or you can lose your job, your business, your chosen career, your home, and even your dog. The sexual revolution ideology of the 1960s means that personal feelings outweigh the transhistorical truths that have fostered the flourishing of all humanity.…4

But where are the actual examples of attacks on the rights of gays—to earn a living, to own a business, to finish a college degree, to create and maintain organizations defined by their beliefs, or to work as a pharmacist, baker, or photographer? No sexual identity, no amount or degree of even the most “transgressive” sexual expression makes you unfit for those rights in America today. No right-wing Christian zealot is trying to take them away. The Left cries “discrimination: against homosexuals and makes wild comparisons to Jim Crow Laws—a logically incoherent comparison that insults the great civil rights leaders of the twentieth century. But no one can point to any real incident in which a person has been denied service because of his or her sexual orientation. Refusing to help celebrate a gay wedding or to provide a bed in one’s own home for lesbian sex is simply not the same things as discrimination against persons. It’s simply a refusal to be drafted onto the opposing side. An objection to being made to care.5

All of this is, of course, un-American. It’s even anti-American. Next week, we’ll elaborate on this point. We’ll list several specific ways same-sex marriage and the “rights” that are flowing from it are effectively working against genuine liberty and other American ideals—how they are pushing our nation toward tyranny. In one sense our discussion will be a review, but in another, it will help us put a “handle” on where we are as a nation.

If we understand and heed the warning signs, perhaps we can change course.

Part 7 is available here.

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Websites and videos in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.

top image: Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell, 1943

WallBuilders Live! broadcast, May 17, 2016


1Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, (New York, Viking, 2016), 73.

2Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen, (2016-02-22). You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe (Kindle Locations 136-314). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

3Ibid., (Kindle Locations 323-330).

4Ibid., (Kindle Locations 317-320).

5Ibid., (Kindle Locations 332-339).

Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America into Tyranny, Part 5

How True Rights and Genuine Liberty Are Becoming Casualties of the Supreme Court’s Redefinition of Marriage

Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government. Though affirmed, fulfilled, and elevated by faith, the truth that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman is not based on religion or revelation alone, but on the Natural Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason. It is part of the natural created order. The Natural Law is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as a higher law or a just law in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.…The institutions of civil government should defend marriage and not seek to undermine it. Government has long regulated marriage for the true common good. Examples, such as the age of consent, demonstrate such a proper regulation to ensure the free and voluntary basis of the marriage bond. Redefining the very institution of marriage is improper and outside the authority of the State. No civil institution, including the United States Supreme Court or any court, has authority to redefine marriage.
Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage

Though expected, today’s decision is completely illegitimate. We reject it and so will the American people. It represents nothing but judicial activism, legislating from the bench, with a bare majority of the Justices on the Supreme Court exercising raw political power to impose their own preferences on marriage when they have no constitutional authority to do so. It is a lawless ruling that contravenes the decisions of over 50 million voters and their elected representatives. It is a decision that is reminiscent of other illegitimate Court rulings such as Dred Scott and Roe v Wade and will further plunge the Supreme Court into public disrepute.
Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, on June 26, 2015, responding to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling that redefined marriage nationwide to include same-sex couples—

Properly understood, rights are not guarantees that something will be provided for us but guarantees that what is ours will not be unjustly taken from us. That is, properly speaking, rights are not positive but negative.
Calvin Beisner

Part 4, which is available here, provides important background information for this post.

Depending on the circumstances and on what listeners want to hear, the truth can be very difficult to accept. So difficult, in fact, that some individuals reject it altogether. Consider Marc, who was very much alive but was convinced he was dead. When his psychiatrist asked him if dead men bleed, Marc said no. The doctor promptly stuck Marc’s finger with a needle, causing blood to come forth. “Wow!” exclaimed Marc. “Dead men really do bleed, after all!”

With very few exceptions, it isn’t desirable for people to live in a world of fantasy and illusion. Mature people must grapple with reality. People need to eat! The bills have to be paid! The real world is messy, but it is the one we live in—yet it’s also the one in which we can find fulfillment and satisfaction, if we adjust to life’s demands and cooperate with its realities.

The law of gravity provides a great example. No one can step out of a 10th story window and expect to go anywhere but down, and fast! Gravity prevents us from safely doing a great number of things. Yet when we cooperate with it, we benefit immensely. Why? In a great many ways, gravity, which is part of “the natural order of things,” makes ordered life on earth possible.

Marriage, as humanity has understood it for centuries, is very much like gravity in this regard. When a society respects marriage as an institution uniting one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, it’s clear that it limits that society in certain ways. Perhaps it’s not as clear that it liberates it in many more! Clear or not, this is the truth! When a nation rejects man-woman marriage, devastating consequences follow, a number of which we have discussed in previous posts.

This week in our series on rights, we move to consider how the Supreme Court of the United States, through its ruling on marriage, has violated the concept of rights our Founders embraced and enshrined in our Constitution, particularly in the Bill of Rights. Ironically, it has done this in the name of granting rights to a few! Five Supreme Court justices—a bare majority—also have violated the natural order to make life worse for everyone. Not everyone will accept the truth we will explore, but those who do accept it will benefit. Moreover, the more who accept it, the more the country will benefit. It is time for us as a nation to stop living in a world of fantasy.

At the outset, I’d like to stake out four principles that describe my perspective.

  1. Everything I write today, I write, as Abraham Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address, “with malice toward none, and charity for all.”
  2. While I bear absolutely no ill-will toward those who disagree with me, I cannot remain silent as this country continues to decline and as its foundational principles are abandoned and rejected. Liberty and authentic freedom are fragile and must be guarded. Once liberty is understood to mean license, once freedom is seen as absolute individual autonomy, and once the government endorses these definitions with policy, people begin to live according to their base desires en masse, without giving a single accurate thought to the public good. Eventually this will lead to societal chaos, which inevitably will lead to tyranny. We’ve been traveling down this very road for some time.
  3. In previous posts, I have repeatedly called the evidence for man-woman marriage “obvious.” From the Word Foundations menu, do a search for the word obvious, and you will see what I mean. Here is one of my bedrock convictions: The fact that marriage can’t be anything other than what it has been for centuries is self-evident, revealed in nature and other realities in the world in which we live. Why, then, isn’t the obvious, obvious? Because the popular culture has touted lies about the world, life, and marriage so frequently and for so long, millions have come to believe them. They have been blinded!
  4. I believe the Bible is God’s authoritative revelation to humanity and that it is absolutely true in all that it says. Even so, I don’t believe we need the Bible to understand what marriage really is. We will consider a few Bible passages at the end of this post, but otherwise we will rely on the truth that nature itself speaks loudly and clearly. The case for this is strong.

I am honored to be in very good company! Although I cannot verify that he would agree fervently with everything I’ve stated thus far, he apparently agrees with much of it, because I agree with him about the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling. In his dissent on this ruling, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas brilliantly describes the situation at hand.


In this post we will examine only the first paragraph of Justice Thomas’s dissent. That paragraph’s seven sentences alone are insightful and substantive, and they’re alarming enough to raise red flags nationwide about same-sex marriage. Next week we will look at additional statements in Thomas’s dissent and discuss even more implications of the Obergefell ruling as it relates to rights. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here is the first paragraph.

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.


Let’s consider each of these statements individually.

Statement 1: “The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built.”

To learn just a few of the ways the Obergefell decision “is at odds…with the Constitution,” read this brief summary from Alliance Defending Freedom. Also read Bradley C. S. Watson’s National Review article “Reclaiming the rule of Law after Obergefell.” You can read some of our nation’s foundational principles here.

Statement 2: “Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.”

From May 25 to September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its delegates drafted the US Constitution. As we discussed in a previous post, resistance to ratification was strong because the proposed Constitution did not have a Bill of Rights—a list of limitations on the government that would keep it out of the way so people could live their lives freely. Even though the Constitution was drafted and proposed in 1787 without a Bill of Rights and subsequently was ratified, it was accepted only when the Bill of Rights was added. Thus, “there was, in the minds of this first generation of US citizens (not just the Founders), a direct relationship between the thriving of personal liberties (rights) and restrictions that kept the federal government out of people’s lives.” The battle to add the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution never would have been won if the principles of limited government had not been accepted and embraced in the populace in years prior.

Oh, that we could recapture their love of limitations on government! Today the prevailing perspective on rights calls, not for government limitations, but government intrusion! For a few moments, reflect on the degree to which government has had to invade marriage in order to remake it into an institution that affords same-sex couples the “right” to “marry.” While in US history, the Supreme Court has issued numerous egregious decisions to grant positive rights, only a handful have sent the Court even close to the level of meddling we’ve seen with Obergefell. More on this in a moment.

Statement 3: “The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty.”

The Bill of Rights, with its government-limiting provisions to ensure individual liberties, provides undeniable evidence of this truth.

Statement 4: “Yet the majority [of Supreme Court justices] invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect.”

These are allusions to a positive right and to negative rights. The positive right, the “‘liberty’ that the Framers would not have recognized” is, of course, same-sex marriage. Does anyone really believe the Founders had same-sex marriage in mind when they wrote the Constitution? Does anyone think for a New York minute they wouldn’t have acted to protect man-woman marriage if they knew same-sex marriage ever would be seriously proposed, much less practiced, in the United States? The point here is that we can be certain redefining marriage never even entered the the minds of the Founders, so they did not sanction it. We can say the same thing for those who drafted and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified after the US Civil War), which is cited as a basis for the Obergefell ruling. How then, can same-sex marriage be constitutional?

Many other strong arguments against the constitutionality of same-sex marriage exist as well, but Justice Thomas, rightly, was saying the Framers never would have recognized the practice as legitimate. The truth is that the men who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights did act to prevent the implementation of same-sex marriage, even though they didn’t know it ever would be considered. They did so by enshrining the principle of limited government in the founding documents. The Supreme Court has rejected this principle outright.

Further into his dissent, Justice Thomas discusses Obergefell’s threat to religious liberty, which we will consider next week. The freedoms associated with the principle of religious liberty are included in the term “liberty” in Thomas’s powerful clause, “to the detriment of the liberty they [the Framers] sought to protect” through provisions that limit government action. Those provisions were established to guarantee negative rights.

Statement 5: “Along the way, it [the Court] rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government.”

The Declaration of Independence declares,

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. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Rights are God-given! Put another way, human dignity is innate because it comes from God! This was the conviction of our Founders. It is a principle on which they severed ties with Great Britain and on which they founded the United States of America. The Obergefell ruling, according to Thomas, “rejects this idea.” Justice Thomas is right.

Moreover, through its ruling the Supreme Court “suggests instead that it [human dignity] comes from the Government.” We must not miss the implications of Justice Thomas’s strong statement. Marriage, a God-given and God-ordained institution, could be redefined by government only through the most intrusive of bureaucratic actions. In redefining marriage, therefore, our government defied God! Yet, as frightening as this is, there’s even more here to alarm us. If human dignity comes from the government rather than God, is it really dignity at all?

Human dignity definitely does not come from government. It was the reality of human dignity—innate and God-given—that compelled our country’s Founders to limit government in ways that preserved personal freedom and rights in the first place!

Statement 6: “This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic.”

The implications here are especially alarming. Hang in there with me, and you’ll see what I mean. In the US Constitution we see reflected a host of principles stated clearly in the Declaration of Independence. This one comes to mind: In order “to secure these rights [the unalienable rights given by God], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (emphasis added). Accordingly, the Constitution itself doesn’t begin with “The Government of the United States of America,” but with the phrase “We the People.”


The people are to be the government’s boss in America, but the US government has inverted this relationship by usurping the people’s authority. Not only that, but the Supreme Court, through its Obergefell ruling, has defied nature and defied God. In fact, it has set itself up as God! If the Supreme Court will be so bold as to change the millennia-old definition of marriage, what will it not attempt?

Statement 7: “I cannot agree with it.”

Justice Thomas understands. He “gets it”! Because he does, he disagrees with the marriage ruling, and so must everyone else who is truly familiar with the importance of the founding principles of the United States of America.


Let’s return briefly to statement 6. In reflecting on it, we said that government, through Obergefell, had set itself up as God. Then we asked, If the Supreme Court will be so bold as to change the millennia-old definition of marriage, what will it not attempt?  

We are told in Genesis that God thwarted the completion of the Tower of Babel. We’re also informed as to why. Genesis 11:1-9 declares,

1 Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. 4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

As with the worldwide flood just a few chapters earlier (see Gen. 6-9), God stepped in when humanity had stepped over a clear boundary. How long will it be before He intervenes to stop America from going any further?

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when deliberations almost had reached an impasse, Benjamin Franklin appealed to the delegates to establish regular prayers over their sessions. Here is a portion of what he said (emphasis added).


I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.

Franklin pled with the delegates to acknowledge God in the infancy of our nation. Today, almost 230 years later, the US Supreme Court doesn’t just ignore God and the natural laws He established; instead, a majority of justices effectively shake their collective fist in His face! Even if a person doesn’t believe in God, he or she still could find it difficult to imagine how any person or group could more thoroughly or foolishly spurn nature’s clear teaching.

The Bible informs us that God is patient (see 2 Pet. 3:9), but His patience is not limitless. Marriage is sacred (see Gen. 1:26-28; 2:21-25), for it is God-ordained and a picture of Christ and His bride, the church (see Eph. 5:25-33). Make no mistake. The scriptural principle is clear: God will judge those who violate the institution of marriage (see Heb. 13:4).

In light of all this, we must resist the Obergefell ruling. Our long-term goal needs to be to restore the definition of marriage so that public policy aligns with what marriage really is.

We must require all branches of our government to stop meddling in marriage. Government entities must stop securing positive rights inconsistent with marriage’s age-old definition. In addition, we must, in both our personal and public lives, uphold marriage as being what God and nature declare it to be.

We’ve seen this week that if we don’t resist, the consequences for our country will be dire. And you know what? There’s even more to say about how dire.

Stay tuned!

Part 6 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

top image credit: lightstock.com

Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective of Rights Is Leading America Into Tyranny, Part 4

Negative and Positive Rights

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.
Thomas Jefferson

If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.
Samuel Adams

Part 3 is available here.

We begin our discussion this week with a brief Bible study. Properly interpreted, the Bible is the source that never misinforms or misleads anyone.

The principle that righteousness is a matter of the heart is upheld and strongly emphasized in the New Testament (see Matt 5:20–6:18 [5:20-48; 6:1-18]; 15:10-20), but we find it in the Old Testament as well. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.”

We also see this truth in the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17).  Does this mean we are to be totally ambivalent about our neighbor’s possessions and not to desire to have nice things for ourselves? No. A desire by itself isn’t a sin; but coveting is. We can and should be content with what we have, yet at the same time be motivated to improve our situation by attaining more through hard work. Coveting a neighbor’s possession can lead to stealing. This would be a violation of the Eighth Commandment (see Ex. 20:15) and an illegitimate means of acquiring the thing or things one wants. Yet through hard work and wise use of earned money, a person can acquire goods legitimately. It’s important, however, never to forget God in the process. As the Lord instructed His people in Deuteronomy 8:18, “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Against this biblical backdrop, let’s consider two kinds of rights. Last time, we described differences between the first two of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms—freedom of speech and freedom of worship—and the last two—freedom from want and freedom from fear. The first two represent one category of rights and the last two a second category. To maintain the first two as rights, government needs primarily to stay out of the way and allow people to speak and worship freely. Maintaining the “rights” of a national populace to be free from want and fear, however, compel government to act in ways that invade people’s lives. In fact, such government activity can and often does infringe on rights in the first category—the kind of rights people cannot enjoy unless government stays out of the way.

Social and political scientists call rights that fall in the first category negative rights and those that fall in the second category positive rights. Some make a distinction between negative and positive rights and negative and positive liberties, but for our purposes here, we will use these terms interchangeably. Writing at libertarianism.org,1 Aaron Ross Powell explains,

If we want to start very simple, keeping our definitions to just two words each, negative liberty means “freedom from,” while positive liberty means “capacity to.”

Another way of thinking about the difference—though again, it’s a rough one—is to see negative liberty as being about the absence of external limits, while positive liberty is about the absence of internal limits.

Powell goes on to offer an example.

Scenario one: Jack has family members in California and wants to visit them. He lives in New York, so he has to travel a great distance to make the visit. Seen from the perspective of negative rights, Jack has a right to make the trip because he is free make it and should not be hindered from doing so. Yet suppose someone comes along and kidnaps Jack or steals his car. Describing these situations, we would be correct in saying Jack’s negative right to travel to the Golden State has been violated because he has been prevented from exercising his right to make the trip. However, if in these ways or in others no one keeps him from making the trip, Jack’s right to go to California will not have been violated—even if, in the end, he chooses not to go.

Scenario two: Suppose, though, that Jack lives in poverty and can’t afford to make the long journey to the west coast. Or perhaps he has a bad back and can’t endure the rigors of travel for a long time. No one is preventing him from making the trip, so his negative right to travel isn’t being violated. Even so, seeing the situation from a positive rights standpoint, someone would say Jack has been hindered from exercising his right to visit family members because he lacks what he needs to go to California. Advocates of Jack’s positive right to travel would make the case his capacity to journey westward should be secured.

From a negative-rights standpoint—the first scenario—government needs to stay out of Jack’s way and let him make the trip if he decides to go. Hopefully government also would pursue and punish any kidnapper or thief.

In the second situation, assuming the state sees Jack’s trip as a right, what might government do? We do not have to guess. It will tax and redistribute resources to make it possible for Jack to visit his family! Even though in this situation we can say that taxpayers’ rights have been violated because they are being forced to pay for a trip for someone they never have met, as well as a trip that brings no measurable benefit to the public at large, in the end these facts don’t much matter. Why? Because a positive-rights perspective tends to focus exclusively on the meeting of positive rights, through whatever means. Keep in mind that with such rights, we aren’t speaking only of Jack, but of many, many others as well; and while we probably aren’t talking about excursions to California, Jack’s trip illustrates well the impact that positive rights have on others. Consider this also: Advocates of negative rights seek to create equal opportunities for all rather than the equal outcomes sought by proponents of positive rights.

Proponents of negative rights seek equal opportunities for all while advocates of positive rights focus on equal outcomes.

The Founders of the United States of America understood the importance of providing opportunities rather than engineering outcomes. They thus enshrined in the Constitution through the Bill of Rights a series of liberties based on an understanding of rights as negative rights, even though they probably didn’t think of it in those terms.

Unfortunately, in recent decades in this country, the emphasis has shifted 180 degrees, and many, many people—perhaps most—don’t even realize the change has occurred. Under the leadership of progressives and those who refuse to challenge them, our government now goes ballistic in its efforts to make sure rights are secured and maintained from a positive rights perspective. Does this violate people’s fundamental negative rights? Yes, but no matter. As we have said, a positive rights perspective is consumed with securing equal outcomes.

It is no coincidence that, as we have moved from upholding negative rights to promoting positive ones, the national climate has decreased in terms of healthy ambition and has become much more self-centered. We are a nation obsessed with positive rights—like the “right” not to be offended! Mark it down. It is very telling that as our obsession has increased, so has the number of incidents in which offended people actively have sought to silence others. Many have become hyper-sensitive, offended over things they simply should see as expressions of opinions different from their own.

Can’t you see it? The right to free speech and the “right” not to be offended cannot coexist with each other. You show me a nation that, between these two, places a higher priority on free speech, and I’ll show you one where people inevitably will be offended—not in every situation, but at least occasionally. Actually, in such a country, people tend to respect the right of others to disagree with them, and they are less readily offended than they otherwise would be. On the other hand, you show me a country that values not offending people to a greater extent than free speech, and I’ll show you one in which speech is being regulated and curtailed. There is no way any government can protect both of these “rights” equally; nor will any government try, because it will tip the scales one way or the other. In America the “right” not to be offended is not a part of our Constitution and free speech is, but which of these do you think now has the upper hand?

The right to free speech and the “right” not to be offended cannot coexist with each other. 

Moving on to a more specific example, let’s consider the recent national debate on bathroom access. This debate not only demonstrates the miniscule size of the group progressives will bend over backwards not to offend; it also shows just how far government is willing to go in violating the negative rights of the majority to secure the positive rights of a select few. There’s more. The debate also teaches us taxation and redistribution of wealth isn’t the only means by which our government will violate negative rights. In this instance, it is willfully running roughshod over the privacy rights of the majority in order to meet the demands of the LGBT community. This doesn’t just portend tyranny, it is tyranny!

Consistent with all these factors is the reality that the culture is hyper-focused on individualism and personal autonomy. Remember our Bible lesson at the beginning. While negative rights cannot make a person pure or righteous, they emphasize and encourage the right things. They motivate people to work hard and to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Positive rights, in contrast, foster covetousness and a self-centered attitude. Certainly an emphasis on positive rights hasn’t been the only factor in the decline of our culture, but it has been an important one.

Partly because they have had so much to gain, progressives have used government to orchestrate the national discussion in the direction of promoting positive rights. As a result, now more than ever, government is meddling in affairs it is incapable of efficiently managing. A Summit Ministries article dated February 15, 2010 and titled “Is Government-Run Health Care a Good Idea?” discusses negative and positive rights and offers a great deal of insight on this issue. We will summarize a point or two in the article but also will quote portions at length to make sure we do not misrepresent what it says (hyperlinks have been added).


A dodo bird, some have observed, never was designed to fly. Similarly, government never was designed, nor is it equipped, to do certain things. Understanding negative and positive rights helps us recognize the limits of government’s role and hopefully can equip us to raise a red flag when government is about to overstep its responsibilities.

Negative rights are those that cannot be negated, or taken away, without diminishing our fundamental humanity and freedoms. In The Declaration of Independence, these rights are listed as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Further, human rights are considered “unalienable,” meaning they are basic to our human condition as creatures made in God’s image and, therefore, cannot be taken away or manipulated by government.

Genesis 9:1-6 records God’s mandate for establishing civil government; to protect our right to life and liberty by bringing evil doers to justice. [We see this echoed in the New Testament as well.] The government, therefore, is the social organization designated to protect God-given rights from being abused or taken away by others.

Positive rights, on the other hand, are aspects of human life that contribute to our basic needs for survival. Examples are food, shelter, education, and medical care. These needs have traditionally been the responsibility of the individual, the family, and local community groups, such as the church and charitable organizations. This has been the teaching of the church and comes from a number of biblical passages. Jesus said, for example, to help the poor and the sick, but this was spoken to his disciples, not the Roman government (see, for example, Matthew 10:8; 25:31-46]. Jesus also taught that Caesar’s authority was subordinate to God’s.

Therefore, the article goes on to say, we see the principle of sphere sovereignty upheld in Scripture. Government has its own designated roles and responsibilities, the family has its own, and the church has its own. No entity should try to take on the tasks another entity was created to fulfill. Attempting to do so would mean interfering with and usurping the authority of the sphere designed to perform those tasks. The article continues:

Back to the central question; should government try to provide positive rights? Based on the primary truths of human nature and the role of government, we find at least two reasons that government is not designed to provide positive rights.

First, positive rights involve too many variables. An individual’s positive needs (for food, shelter, etc.) vary from year to year, even day to day. For example, an able bodied 32-year old has different needs than a 31-month old or a feeble 93-year old. A bureaucrat sitting in an office somewhere cannot possibly know the changing needs of every individual citizen or how best to meet them. The most a government agency can do is try to enforce general guidelines, a one-size-fits-all approach, and because it cannot anticipate the variables of day-to-day life, there will inevitably be shortages, inefficiency, and waste of manpower and money.

This principle is clearly seen when government intervenes in economic matters. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.” Jefferson understood the limits of what government is capable of doing. It is not designed to orchestrate people’s basic needs, even one as fundamental as food.

Second, the only means government has to accomplish its goals is the use of force. George Washington put it this way, “Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Force works well when it comes to protecting negative rights, which is the reason for the military, police, and the courts. But to place the power of government over the day-to-day lives of citizens sets up a tremendous potential for abuse. People begin to demand more services. This is a formula for creating shortages, leading to unmet expectations by citizens, which creates social unrest. This is the opposite of the state’s responsibility for maintaining social cohesion and order.

As convincing as all of this is, we actually can poke even more holes in the case for a national promotion of positive rights. In his excellent work,  Social Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and GospelCornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation founder and spokesman Calvin Beisner discusses extensively the differences between negative and positive rights.


Drawing from economist Walter Block, Beisner demonstrates that negative rights are applicable in society at large, reasonable, and workable; and that positive rights are unrealistic and unworkable, sometimes even to the point of being absurd. Summarizing Beisner’s discussion of Block, we note the following.

  1. Negative rights transcend time. Just as a prehistoric man or woman could enjoy his or her right to be left alone, so can we. The same is not true of positive rights. We never can reasonably say that a person from the 18th century had a right to modern, 21st century medical care or modern means of transportation, can we?
  2. Negative rights are readily understandable because they are easily recognized. Moreover, they are realistic. We can respect negative rights of others by resolving not to kill them, steal from them, or lie about them; but we cannot, simply by resolving to do so, give everyone in the world the same standard of living most North Americans enjoy. We actually can’t do this by trying to engineer it, either. It simply isn’t possible.
  3. A negative-rights perspective is realistic about the difference between moral and immoral actions by human beings and acts of nature. Ridiculously, a positive rights perspective implies that a tornado that destroyed a family’s home violated that family’s rights!
  4. Because “positive rights are not merely equal rights but rights to equal things,” a positive-rights perspective can make the case that any inequality between individuals or groups is a violation of rights. A negative-rights perspective, however, sees rights in terms of equal opportunities for all, regardless of the other differences that exist.
  5. Where is the concept of charity in a positive-rights point of view? Even if you look high and low, you won’t find it. If government is charged with securing and maintaining positive rights, it and it alone is the benefactor. In addition, a positive-rights perspective implies that when an individual gives money to help the poor or otherwise disadvantaged person, any discrepancy in the assets of the recipient and the assets of the giver after the gift represents a violation of the recipient’s right to equality!
  6. A positive-rights perspective asserts that equal outcomes are desirable, yet some attributes among individuals cannot be equalized. The family into which one is born, age, IQ, height, sex—all of these and more—are differences that cannot be altered or changed (despite everything the transgender movement claims). On the other hand, negative rights are equal at the outset and can be applied to everyone universally. For example, we readily see that each person has an equal right not to be mistreated, molested, or mugged.

Beisner writes a two-sentence summary worth committing to memory. He says, “Properly understood, rights are not guarantees that something will be provided for us but guarantees that what is ours will not be unjustly taken from us. That is, properly speaking, rights are not positive but negative.” 

Properly understood, rights are not guarantees that something will be provided for us but guarantees that what is ours will not be unjustly taken from us. That is, properly speaking, rights are not positive but negative.
Calvin Beisner

Therefore, negative rights aren’t really negative in the way we typically define the term. Moreover, positive rights, especially when pursued by government with abandon, will bring extremely negative consequences on a nation. Next time, we’ll talk even more about some of the consequences of our nation’s obsession with positive rights.

Be sure to exercise your right to return! If one or more people try to stop you, share this post with them.

Meanwhile, please be in prayer for America.

Part 5 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

top image credit: www.lightstock.com

1The citing of the libertarianism.org should not be construed as endorsement of every tenet of libertarianism or of everything found on this website.