Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Leader Resource 1: Natural Rights, Legal Rights, and Human Rights

Part of What We Choose

Natural Rights: Natural rights are associated with philosophy and religion. The idea behind natural rights is that our humanity (our unique nature) imbues us with certain inherent rights, including the right to life. Such rights are commonly attributed to scriptural or religious teachings, the teachings of philosophy, or simply "common sense." We believe natural rights are bestowed on us by virtue of being human.

Legal Rights: Legal rights are bestowed by law. We are entitled to legal rights because our political and legal systems name them as rights. Because these rights have been given through the creation of law, they can also be changed, abolished, or strengthened through political and legal institutions. Many legal rights are also natural rights, for example, the right to life is supported by law and by our philosophical definition of humanity.

Human Rights: The concept of human rights is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. These are internationally agreed upon norms, which some countries protect through their laws and others do not. The Declaration in and of itself is not legally binding; it is an unenforceable moral commitment. While many of the rights contained in the Declaration are natural rights or derive from natural rights, others are legal rights. The term "human rights" is often used loosely to cover both natural and legal rights that the international community agrees belong to all people. It is important to remember that a right may be a legal right in some countries but not others; a right may also be considered a natural right in some cultures but not others.