By the very fact that you were born and are reading this, you have three natural rights. You have the right to your life (nobody should kill you), your liberty (nobody should enslave you) and your property (nobody should take away the fruits of your labor and the things you own). A close reading of the scriptures clearly shows that you were indeed born with these rights, and in fact the Bible and modern-day revelation all reflect the fact of natural rights.
The great heroes of the scriptures are the defenders of natural rights. The greatest tyrants are those who undermine natural rights.
Let’s start from the beginning. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden and begin to til the Earth. Who owns the Earth? God does, but he allows Adam and Eve to “own” a portion of it during their lifetimes. Is the Earth common property, owned by all? No, people are given ownership during their lifetimes based on their work of the land. Adam and Eve do not own the entire Earth — they own the portions they can work. It would be ludicrous for them to claim they own mountains and plains hundreds of miles from where they first worked, but it would be equally ludicrous to question the fact that they own the very fields they first worked on and subsequent fields planted by them.
Adam and Eve are “given” (by the Lord) flocks of animals. Who owns the flocks? Well, at the beginning they are owned by the Lord, but He gives ownership to Adam and Eve during their lifetimes. The flocks become “owned” by Adam and Eve because of their labor. They work with the flocks, they presumably discover how to get milk and animal skins.
Their children also own the fruits of their labor. Abel had flocks. They belonged to him because he worked on the flocks. The flocks of animals were not “common property.” How do we know? Because Cain’s great evil act was to “get gain.” (Moses 5:31). He killed Adam partly out of jealousy but also partly because Satan tempted Cain because of Abel’s flocks. (Moses 5:38). “Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.” (Moses 5:33). Cain believed ownership of the flocks would give him the proper glory and make him “free.” He also believed he could gain more money and power by owning the flocks instead of his brother.
Here we see two violations of natural rights. Cain killed to “get gain.” But this is crucial: Cain’s act was also evil because he violated the natural property rights of Abel. In theory, Cain could have created his own flocks. But it would have taken time and work and investment. Cain wanted the easy way out: he chose to take from somebody else rather than do the work himself.
Please notice the pattern: Abel did things the right way: he worked on his flocks and was given ownership of them. He had a natural right to that ownership. Cain did things the wrong way: he stole Abel’s property and killed him.
Time and again, this is the pattern in the scriptures: the heroes defend natural rights and the enemies of God offend natural rights.
Let’s consider Moses. He was a champion of individual, personal rights. The Israelites were enslaved by the Pharaoah, who was a great violator of natural rights. Pharoah’s great crime was that he saw other human life as belonging to him. He did not understand that individuals have rights given to them by God. He felt he “owned” the Israelites and therefore could take the fruits of their labor forever.
If we live in a world where natural rights don’t matter, Pharoah’s actions could possibly be justified. I’m sure he had advisers telling him that the Israelites “owed” him their labor. But Moses understood the importance of natural rights: nobody can make another person a slave. This is a violation of your natural right to liberty. But remember what happened when times got rough in the wilderness: the slaves wanted to return to Egypt because they had food there (Exodus 16: 2–3). This desire for worldly possessions without liberty was highly offensive to the Lord.
As we know, the Israelites eventually arrived in the promised land and set up self-governing units. They were ruled by judges. The Bible implies this was the most correct governmental system for the times, but evil men ruined it (see 1 Samuel 8:2–3). But of course the people, like in all times, chose an evil system rather than a just one. They wanted a king. Samuel warned them what would happen if they chose a king:
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
19 ¶Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
The lesson could not be more clear: people have a natural right to their lives, their liberty and their property (D&C 134:2). People should choose to be free and not allow governments to take away these rights. But people who ignore the Lord choose evil systems of government, governments that take away their freedom (people will have to work for the king and go to war from them); their right to property (the king will take away your property and a tenth of your flocks and take them for himself) and their right to life (the king will use this money to make instruments of war).
In one chapter, we see clearly the contrast between the Lord’s way (protect your natural rights) and the world’s way (tyrants destroy your natural rights).
If you continue to ponder the scriptures, you will see this contrast played out again and again. Nephi honors natural rights, Laman and Lemuel want to take them away; Nephi tries to buy the plates from Laban, Laban steals Nephi’s family’s money; the evil Lamanites and Gadianton robbers want to enslave people and live off their labor, just people want to work for themselves and live off their own labor; Captain Moroni wants to defend the freedom of his people (remember the Title of Liberty?) — evil men want to take away liberty.
The message could not be more clear: men and women are born with natural rights. The purpose of government should be to protect these natural rights. The heroes of the scriptures do so. The tyrants “reign with blood and horror on this Earth.”