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An adequate understanding of civil rights requires that they be set within the broader conceptual framework provided by rights theory. Civil rights are related both to natural rights and positive rights, which are typically characterized as distinct and incompatible accounts of rights. According to natural law theory, natural rights are those rights that are part of the natural, given, moral structure of the universe, not unlike those other natural laws that govern the physical universe (i.e., the law of gravity, the law of constant motion, etc.). As natural rights, civil rights are those that are justified by appeal to the moral structure of the universe rather than to any given political system. What makes civil rights important, on this view, is their relation to this ...

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