For those struggling to find the connection between libertarianism and the Church, this may help. While ensuring both positive and negative rights is moral, only negative rights can be enforced without contradiction of other rights. Civil society requires negative rights; heaven requires them all.

Granted, the Church does not make a distinction between negative and positive rights, but when you consider the nature of the two, a distinction needs to be made.

What are negative rights?

Negative rights (also known as natural rights) are those held by people that do not require anything from any one else. For instance, your negative right to life does not require a stranger on the street to do anything or give you anything. It only requires others to not kill you. There are a limited amount of negative rights and they are typically enumerated as the rights to life, liberty, and property.

People are justified in using force to ensure negative rights. Therefore, if someone violates one’s negative rights, he has the authority to defend those rights even if that requires harming the violator. The only legitimate role of the government is to protect negative rights and therefore it is within its legitimate authority to act on the victim’s behalf to protect his rights.

Commandments that speak to negative rights are V, VI, VII, and VII: thou shall not kill, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness.

What are positive rights?

Positive rights, on the other hand, are those held by people that require something from another person. Health care, for instance, requires wealth or action by another party. If someone considers health care a right, he is necessarily making someone else beholden to the “rights-holder” for his health care.

People are not justified in using force to ensure positive rights.As JSB Morse writes, “You cannot have a right to health care without infringing on the doctor’s right to liberty and free association. The modern health care system gets around this obvious clash of rights by introducing a bureaucratic middleman. People can have their right to health care and we’ll pay the voluntary doctor with money we’ve taken from people against their will through taxation. But this also is a violation of negative rights—just once removed.”

Government agents have no legitimate authority to provide or ensure positive rights as they necessarily violate negative rights.

Commandments that speak to positive rights are I, II, III, IV, IX, and X: Honor God, Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, honor the sabbath, honor thy mother and father, do not covet thy neighbor’s wife or property.

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