This erosion of civic understanding by the population at large is unfortunately abetted by organizations such as the ACLU, who should know better, that doggedly pursue fictitious, non-existent "rights", such as the supposed right of Atheists to be free from being offended by any hint of God in our culture and history, while ignoring or denying true rights such as "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" (more on which will follow later).
Public officials compound the confusion by bandying around the term willy-nilly, such as in "patient's bill of rights".
Well I've got news for them. There is no such thing as a "right" to a job, to housing, or to health care. Natural Rights, properly understood, are protections from government power -- they are things government can't do to you.
Yet somehow the concept gets mentally inverted, and "rights" become things government is supposed to provide!
But given finite resources, it's absolutely impossible to supply such things at a level that will satisfy everyone. And this inevitable failure to provide just cheapens the concept of rights in people's minds, to the detriment of upholding what true rights we're supposed to have when the time inevitably comes.
Now things like jobs, housing, and health care are all nice to have, and it may be a societal moral imperative or priority to expend some effort to supply them. But being truly benefits or entitlements, they are rightly subjected then to the realm of the legislature, whose job it is to decide how the finite pie of society's resources gets sliced up. And as such, these entitlements flow from Man's Law -- not from Natural Law -- and can be changed according to popular whim.
True Rights, on the other hand, DO derive from outside the bounds of the legislature; it was no mere rhetorical flourish when Jefferson stated that inalienable rights are endowed by the Creator. And as such, they cannot ever be repealed by any majority, no matter how large. Even unanimous majorities cannot speak for future generations.
Because if they could be repealed, they wouldn't be inalienable, would they?!?
I find it disgusting how many modern, European-style "constitutions" have written into them these socialist fantasies as "Rights". It can only lead to destructive cynicism concerning the most important concept for furthering the cause of human dignity ever invented: God-given Natural Rights.
Look at the Bill of Rights. Every item there is a limit on government power in its dealings with the States or with the People. While later amendments giving government specific powers, such as Prohibition, can be repealed, none of the Bill of Rights can ever legitimately be repealed because those Rights don't depend on being listed there for them to exist, nor do they derive from Man.
And it's not just me asserting this, you can find Supreme Court decisions stating the the rights covered in the Bill of Rights do not depend on the Constitution for their existence.
Indeed, they did not spring into being when written into the Constitution, and there was even debate at the time that they shouldn't be written in, because people in the future (us!) might think they were the only rights we had; or that rather than having strictly enumerated powers, that government could do anything it wanted as long as it didn't bump into our rights.
And they were right to worry, it seems!
Now, one might object that in practice the machinery of government might go ahead and amend away some Right anyway. For example, the very few intellectually honest anti-gun people who admit there is an individual right to bear arms have proposed that perhaps the 2nd amendment should be repealed. Or, from the other side of the aisle, we get proposals that have come discouragingly close to passing to ban Flag burning, which is currently protected by the 1st Amendment.
But those measures would be morally without force and null and void; they would make the Constitution, the most important secular document written in the history of the world, into an internally inconsistent travesty of a mockery of a sham.
An amendment to restrict a right would be an obscenity far greater than any burned flag! A greater, more Orwellian, betrayal of all who fought and died to defend the Constitution could hardly be imagined!
Understanding the distinction between Rights and Benefits is thus vitally important, because it is not only morally justified but morally imperative to oppose attempts to restrict Rights with potentially deadly force:
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 itBut this is not to be done lightly, especially for things that aren't Rights! Jefferson continues,
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causesIf it's just your entitlements getting the shaft, well tough luck buddy, that's politics!
This issue also bears upon the proper separation of powers among the branches of government. And thus, as entitlements are argued over in Congress, so the questions of Rights belong properly to the Courts.
The Left, being unable to enact its radical agenda through Congress, then attempts to smear the boundary between the benefits it covets and "Civil Rights", so that they can get before the Court, where their chances of getting a mere 5 sympathetic votes from like-minded Supreme Court Justices are much higher.
Which is exactly what they did in Massachusetts with same-sex marriage!
Witness this absurd movement, which attempts to re-brand marriage as a Civil Right! How is marriage a protection from government power?
What they're really talking about is the benefits that come along with legal marriage -- which as I've just stated, are Benefits, and thus not for the Court to decide! I mean, if marriage IS a right, then shouldn't government have to supply me with a Bride?
Sure, make your case that same-sex marriage makes good sense, and go get it voted on in the legislature. And if you can't do it, better luck next time, them's the breaks.
And this civil-right fiction is made all the easier for them to palm off due to the poor understanding in popular culture about the notion of what is and is not a Right, and what the branches of government are supposed to concern themselves with.
Because once we have unelected judges meddling in Benefits and Entitlements, they are then usurping the legislating power of Congress, which is instead meant to be subject to the popular will.
And thus we become effectively governed no longer as a Representative Republic, but rather by an Autocracy of aristocrats wearing robes.
Which is great and all when the aristocrats are handing down rulings that correspond with your worldview. But one day, guess what, they might decide something in a way that is very detrimental to you.
And then you'll be completely screwed.