It seems that the more rights we discover and desire the government to recognize that the less liberty we have. Every time society decides that something is a fundamental right, an aspect of life that to be deprived of diminishes human flourishing, it requires the government to step in and make sure that right does not get trampled. It means new laws, rules, and regulations. It means the government has to grow and has to get more involved in our every day lives because we demanded that this right be recognized.
Now don’t hear me wrong. There are rights that are necessary for human flourishing but they are far less than we imagine. Essentially what has happened is that we have come to view the privileges and comforts of modern life as fundamental rights. As in, “It is impossible for me to flourish without a cell phone Thus I have a right to one. Thus the government must make sure I am provided one” or “It is impossible for me to flourish unless birth control or abortifacients are provided to me by my employer. Thus I have a right to these things. Thus the government must make sure that I am provided them.”
So it seems noteworthy to me that the more things we see and demand as rights that the less liberty we have to simply live our lives. Granted, there will always be a tension that exists in society between rights/law and liberty. A completely libertarian society will fall into anarchy and a communist/Marxist society attempts to make sure everyone is equal but only succeeds in making everyone equally miserable. As strange as it sounds, it seems like the path we are on right now is a combination of the two. We desire a libertarian government when it comes to our personal behavior but we also desire a huge bureaucracy to subsidize, reinforce, and endorse said behavior.
From a Christian perspective, there are three big reasons to push against the tendency towards more perceived rights and instead in the direction of personal liberty. Religious liberty demands a right to freely assemble, a right to proselytize, and a right to have religious ideas be a part of the larger philosophical conversation that takes place in society. Right now it is that last one that is taking the hardest hits. You’ll hear a lot of people talk about religion being something private and something to be confined to the home or the place of worship. You’ll hear people saying that religion does not have a place in the board room, the class room, the court house, or the science lab. Thus by marginalizing religious thought, the place of religion in the broader marketplace of ideas, and the rights of people to practice their faith outside of their homes and places of worship, we are truly trampling on the right of religious liberty.
But I’m a realist. I recognize that the right of religious liberty is not highly valued by the culture at large. That’s why we see new laws, rules, and regulations that are quick to chip away at religious liberty in service of whatever the perceived right du jour is. So then the real question becomes, are we mature enough as a society that even as we demand new rights we will craft laws in such a way that they respect those older, foundational rights? Sadly, I think we know the answer.