Abusing the Language of Civil Rights Until Respect for Them is Gone
Let me start by answering the first question, "what is a right?" in terms of what they are functionally. The power to declare rights is the power of tyranny. I explored this at length in the first book on Localism and even more in the second. Once something becomes a " civil right" then it takes it out of the public sphere. It becomes the purview of whoever has the right. For example, if we have the right to free speech it does not matter if what I say is offensive to the majority in my community. They can't pass a law telling me to shut up because by definition a "right" is a claim against the majority. The same thing if they don't like my religion, or that I own a gun. A civil right is an area of life which is not subject to a vote. That's how rights are supposed to work. And they were so essential that the view of our founders was that if a government habitually crossed the line and failed to respect the rights of its citizens then armed rebellion was justified.
The concept of civil rights was so powerful that our founders worked out a laborious process for quantifying them. Not all of them wanted to do that- those who favored a strong central state did not want to spell them out, but those suspicious of a strong central state would block the ratification of the constitution without an attendant Bill of Rights which put them in writing. History has proven them more correct, for our governments frequently violate the rights which are plainly spelled out in the text of the constitution in violation of the Rule of Law. How much moreso if those rights had never been spelled out on paper in the first place?
The Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments to the constitution, some of which had to do with civil rights, were legitimized through a laborious process of ratification. Everyone had a chance to understand what they were getting, and the majority of citizens, through more than one process, basically signed off on the idea that the federal government they were creating would have large areas of life that it could not mess with. They were recognizing limitations on what they could collectively demand of their neighbors through the new government which they had created. Once these restrictions were in place, it was from time to time the duty of the Judicial Branch to remind the Executive and the Legislative Branch that some action of theirs went too far and violated the compact which established their right to govern.
But this is not what we see going on today. We have lost touch with the original process of determining "rights" the process has now mutated into something which is unhealthy, unsustainable, and eventually chaotic. The process of something becoming a civil right is disconnected from any prior recognition by the people that the label fits. Nor are they now limited to the idea of claims that an individual has against the state. They are now doled out by group identity- that the state uses to limit the actions of other private citizens. So instead of the state being the one limited by civil rights, individuals are limited by them via state action. Thus what was originally recognized in order to limit state action has become the tool by which the state is empowered to meddle further in the lives of citizens.
These days people just declare something a "right" and demand it be treated as such regardless of whether or not their neighbors or ancestors ever agreed to be bound by such a view of rights. If some judge backs them up, then its considered that a new "civil right" has been discovered. It's asinine. It flies in the face of the principle of the rule of law, and the consent of the governed, as well as historical truth about where rights are considered to come from and how they are recognized.
This promiscuous manufacture of pseudo-rights will only feel liberating and empowering for an historically brief period of time. What it will lead to is the rapid division of America into "victim's groups" competing for a share of an ever-more-overtly politicized court system which will squander its remaining public legitimacy attempting to bench-legislate the personal preferences of its judges into "rights". None of us will be at peace as the rules are constantly at risk of changing based on who is up and who is down in this process. Congress will become even less effective than they are as they off-load all responsibility for their tough decisions to the other two branches- maximizing the incumbency of their members.
The end result will be one that the totalitarian state will love- the very concept of "rights" will be de-legitimized in the minds of the people. They will equate the idea of "rights" with the idea of the state pushing them around on behalf of someone else- the exact opposite of what a right is actually supposed to be. Just like flooding an area with counterfeit money causes people to doubt the legitimacy of the real thing, flooding a society with hackneyed pseudo-rights will erode confidence in the very concept. This is why the people who are questioning this proliferation of new "rights" are not necessarily mean people who want to hurt others anymore than people who question whether money is real or counterfeit are just trying to stop whoever holds them from having nice stuff. Some of us are concerned for the integrity of the process because we understand how terrible it could be were it fatally compromised.
The functional definition of what a right is and the process of how rights become recognized has been hijacked and mutated. The poisonous fruit of these mutations will be cataclysmic if not addressed. And the root cause of the how and the what being mutated is that the where was first mutated. The population has rejected the Founder's belief about where rights come from. The Founder's believed that rights were from our Creator. They were only recognized by the people and by the state, not granted by either. Jefferson described the recognition of this source for rights in the mind of the people as "their only firm basis". It is the view of rights reflected in the Bill of Rights, for it does not say "the people shall have the right to bear arms." Rather it says "the right of the people to keep and bear arms". The right pre-exists the state, and is only formally recognized by it, not granted by it.
I believe that those who cheapen the concept of rights are, whether consciously or not, acting as enemies of the rights which we legitimately have. This is especially true when they refuse to countenance the view of the Founder's as to their source. This is the idea that the true source of our rights is our Creator, not the people, and not the state.
These days a lot of citizens, especially younger ones, are Theophobic. They have an irrational fear of, and in some cases even a loathing of, God. This irrationality expresses itself on this issue. If the state or the people are the source of our rights, then they can take them away. It's their option. This demotes "rights" into an artificial political construct. If on the other hand, governments and people only recognize rights which are granted by Nature's God (and are present whether they choose to acknowledge them or not) then the failure to recognize them is an offense, not just an option.
This is what Jefferson was talking about in quote above. On the subject of slavery he was complaining that his countrymen where not recognizing the rights of black people to be free and that there would be consequences for their failure to recognize the moral order of the universe. He was right, and Abraham Lincoln said as much in his second Inaugural address - he basically said that maybe this civil war is so bloody and awful because we are paying for our sins of keeping blacks as slaves for so long.
Reverence for God has gone out the window in our culture, and with it is going due reverence for the concept of rights as our Founders described them. Because the proper recognition of the source of human rights would limit their counterfeit application, some of the counterfeiters are unwilling to accept this truth. What they don't want to understand is that it is impossible to sustain respect for civil rights as a concept once it is severed from the idea their origin is from a source greater than mankind. They may long for and demand just government, but they will never for any great length of time have it, for they undermine the foundations upon which it must rest.