A lot of people are a bit confused on what “the right to [something]” actually means. They think having a right to something means that someone else must provide it for them.
Sorry, but that’s not the way it works.
If you look at the Bill of Rights, you’ll notice a couple of things: One is that many of the rights are restrictions on government: “the government is not allowed to do X”. Another is that, with a couple of specific exceptions, the right to something is the right to do something, not the right to get something.
Let’s break down some examples.
The First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This is two cases in one. It’s a restriction on government–“Congress shall make no law”–but is also a right to do: practice religion, speak, write/print (press), assemble peaceably, and petition Government for redress of grievances. (This latter doesn’t just mean circulating “petitions” for signatures but more generally the right to ask government to fix what you believe it’s doing wrong.) It does not mean that the government has to provide you with a printing press, a loudhailer so your speech can reach farther, or a meeting hall for your assembly or religious practice. It only allows you to obtain those things. If you want to speak from your soapbox, then bring your own soapbox. Neither the government, nor anyone else, is required to provide you with one.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
First, yes, I know. People try to make much about that introductory bit about “A well-regulated Militia. I deal with that elsewhere: Notably here and here and here. So, we’ll leave that. Look at what’s protected. The right to keep and the right to bear. To own and to carry. Nowhere does it say “the right to have the government provide for you.” You want it? You get it yourself.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Restriction on government again. They can’t require you to let soldiers live in your house, except in a time of war “in a manner to be prescribed by law” which means it can’t be the arbitrary decision of some commander.
And so on.
It’s not until we get to the Sixth where you have a right to something that the government can be obligated to provide.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
In this case the government is required to provide a trial, an impartial jury, and the ability to compel witnesses. The right to have the Assistance of Counsel for defense has been further defined as a right to an attorney and, if unable to afford one, the government has to provide one.
But note something here. In this case it is the government that is threatening you. It is the government action that creates a need to ensure that your rights are not violated, that you are not unjustly punished, that “cruel and unusual punishment” (which I have always taken as inappropriately harsh for the crime while still allowing harsh punishments for severe crimes) is not inflicted and so on. It’s not something you have just decided you want. It is not something that some situation in your own life instills a “need”. You are in the situation of needing these things because the government has put you in that position. If you did not have these things then government could simply make anyone they wished disappear. So the government must ensure you have the tools available to protect yourself, inadequately perhaps given the way things have gone over time but at all, from government itself.
That’s why the things here must be provided by government, because government itself is the threat.
The seventh extends the right to trial by jury in federal civil suits exceeding a value of $20 (which was a lot more when the Constitution was written than it is now). This is an extension of that sixth Amendment right, and much of the same argument holds since the government is involved by settling the disputes by law. but note that only the right of a jury to settle the dispute is all that is promised here. The other elements of the sixth are absent. The seventh also prohibits re-trying a case that has been settled by a jury except except according to the rules of the common law.
The eighth prohibits government from inflicting cruel and unusual punishments. The ninth says that this is not an exhaustive list of rights. And the tenth says if the Constitution doesn’t grant a power to the Federal government or prohibit it to the States, then it belongs to the States or to the people.
So there is only one instance–the right of trial by jury and the things attached to it–where a right is something that has to be provided for you. In no other is that the case.
Thus, when someone says “I have a right to this.” The answer could well be “yes, you do.” If it is not prohibited in a manner consistent with the Constitution of the United States and that of the State in which they are present, then, they have a right to it. But that right is not an obligation for anyone else to provide it for them. They have the right to seek it, to obtain it in whatever legal manner they may do so (stealing it or stealing money to buy it are right out).
They do not, however, get to force others to provide it.