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What Are Fundamental Rights?

Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in the United States.
The right to assemble is also a fundamental right in the United States.
Defendants have the fundamental right to a speedy trial in the United States.
Freedom of speech is considered a fundamental right.
The Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment, was written to enumerate personal freedoms and rights that were not expressly described in the U.S. Constitution.
In the US, many fundamental rights are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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Fundamental rights are usually defined as the absolute rights that a citizen of a country possesses that cannot, under the majority of circumstances, be taken from the citizen. Sometimes, the term is used more loosely with a suggestion that all people have basic or human rights to which they should be entitled. From a legal standpoint, these rights are mainly those stated in legal rulings or region laws, though sometimes certain rights are thought so basic they’re inferred.

Many countries state the rights of their citizens. The US is an example of this, and the Bill of Rights and Amendments to the Constitution, like the 14th Amendment, make some of the fundamental rights of citizens very clear. These basic rights include freedom of speech and press, the right to expedient trials, freedom of religion, and the right to assemble. Freedom from discrimination and right to vote are other provisions.

While these rights are explicitly written, there are some that may be considered even more fundamental from a legal prospective, though open to interpretation by judicial ruling. The right to refuse medical treatment to a child if it goes against a person’s religion, such as Jehovah’s Witness parents refusing blood transfusions for their children, is a challenging subject but will usually be thought a right of the parent. Another potential fundamental right is to raise children in an unconventional manner, provided there is no abuse.

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There are arguments that courts should view other rights as fundamental, such as the right to marriage among same-sex partners. An argument is often made that rights are fundamental, even if not stated, if most people have them. The right to marriage appears to be such a right, and yet does not apply to people of the same gender in most US states.

Interesting precedent exists in US federal and state courts when a right appears fundamental but cannot be won by vote. Desegregation of schools in some parts of the South had to be achieved through court order instead of by voting. The courts can become strongly involved in granted these additional rights thought fundamental because they can deem that part of society will continue to refuse to grant them. A similar decision was made with Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Courts, on case-by-case rulings, often interpret other implicit fundamental rights that may not get much attention in country constitutions. Rights to be safe, rights not to be harassed, rights to live free of pollution, or rights for children to not be subject to bullying are often thought to be foundational, underscoring rights to freedom. The difficulty is in interpretation because, with only an implicit understanding that some rights are fundamental, decisions made by courts can either be stalled for years by other courts that object. Rulings may also be overturned, even if they expand rights.

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Discuss this Article

anon275022
Post 4

I have a question. What is the difference between human rights and fundamental rights? Could you compare them?

discographer
Post 3

As far as I understand, the difference between fundamental rights and statutory rights is that fundamental rights are in the US Constitution and statutory rights are given by Congress, right?

If this is correct, then fundamental rights are superior to statutory rights. If there was a statutory law that is compatible with fundamental rights, then it cannot apply?

Do both fundamental rights and statutory rights apply to everyone who resides in the US?

What about non-citizens, do fundamental rights apply to them?

christensen
Post 2

@SauteePan: I want to play a little bit of devil's advocate with you here. You compare a parent with a religion endangering their child to Sharia laws and honor killings. So, you're a parent, and you have a child born with many difficult medical problems for which surgery is an option. The outcome of surgery could improve a child's living circumstances, could worsen them, or could cause death.

If the child's condition, in fact worsens, that child could face a lifetime of pain and suffering. Maybe the odds for all outcomes are roughly equal. Then there is the choice to do nothing, which means that child will surely die. Is it murder to opt for palliative care, in your estimation?

Now suppose you're a Jehovah's witness, and your child has an option for surgery but it will involve blood transfusions? To do this is strictly against your religion and will damage the chances of that child having an eternal life? Do you save their eternity or do you save their brief life on earth?

The only reason I throw these at you is that each case is very complex and I don't think it's fair to tar all with the same brush or equate "honor" killings to them. I think these decisions on what to do tear people up inside. They are at the deepest heart a debate between duty to the spiritual and duty to the family, a decision about what is best for a child. They are much bigger than your conception of them.

SauteePan
Post 1

I have to say that parents have a right to practice the religion that they choose but if the acts of the religion endanger a child then the laws of the United States trump this religious practice and if something were to happen to the child the parents would be held criminally liable.

So while you do have the right to practice whatever religion you want, you still have to abide by the laws of the United States or whichever other country you're living in.

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