Natural and legal rights
are two types of rights. Legal rights
are those bestowed onto a person by a given legal system
(i.e., rights that can
be modified, repealed, and restrained by human laws). Natural rights
are those that are not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable (i.e., rights that cannot
be repealed or restrained by human laws).
The concept of natural law is closely related to the concept of natural rights. During the Age of Enlightenment, the concept of natural laws was used to challenge the divine right of kings, and became an alternative justification for the establishment of a social contract, positive law, and government – and thus legal rights – in the form of classical republicanism. Conversely, the concept of natural rights is used by others to challenge the legitimacy of all such establishments.
The idea of human rights is also closely related to that of natural rights: some acknowledge no difference between the two, regarding them as synonymous, while others choose to keep the terms separate to eliminate association with some features traditionally associated with natural rights. Natural rights, in particular, are considered beyond the authority of any government or international body to dismiss. The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an important legal instrument enshrining one conception of natural rights into international soft law
. Natural rights were traditionally viewed as exclusively negative rights, whereas human rights also comprise positive rights. Even on a natural rights conception of human rights, the two terms may not be synonymous.
The proposition that animals have natural rights is one that gained the interest of philosophers and legal scholars in the 20th century and into the 21st.
The legal philosophy known as Declarationism seeks to incorporate the natural rights philosophy of the United States Declaration of Independence
into the body of American case law
on a level with the United States Constitution
, since the unanimously agreed upon Doctrines of the Declaration of Independence is the foundational authority upon which the People and the Continental Congress of the 13 British Colonies of America based their power to legitimately separate from Britain and establish its own government (i.e. the Constitution of the United States
). Declarationism philosophy, therefore, insists that if the United States rejects the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence upon which it was founded, it of necessity becomes, retro-actively, an illegitimate government in treasonous rebellion against its rightful government of Crown and Parliament in London; and therefore, the Declaration and Constitution must be held as legally inseparable throughout the entire United States of America (both Federal and State) and its territories.