What is the difference between entitlements and constitutional rights? | Constitution Minute

ATTENTION: Major social media outlets are finding ways to block the conservative/evangelical viewpoint. Click here for daily electronic delivery of the day's top blogs from Virginia Christian Alliance.

The U.S. Constitution is the key to securing liberty for all Americans — yet few know exactly what it says, and what freedoms it protects. These videos are meant to give a simple and quick understanding of key aspects of the U.S. Constitution.  This video message is proudly presented by Hillsdale College, dedicated to promoting civil discourse and the principles of liberty and limited government.

Understanding the distinctions between constitutional rights and entitlements helps clarify how different guarantees provided to individuals in the U.S. function and the basis upon which they are granted and protected.

Get Your FREE Pocket-sized copy of The Constitution and Declaration of Independence!
Click Here to get yours Today (Hillsdale Constitution Minute)

America’s founding principles were deeply rooted in the belief that individuals are endowed with natural rights, fundamental to their existence, which include the rights to life, liberty, and property. This philosophy, championed by luminaries like John Locke and enshrined in documents like the Declaration of Independence, asserts that these rights are inherent to every human being, irrespective of external circumstances.

A staunch adherent to this view of rights holds a simple yet powerful stance: they ask only for respect of these rights from others, without demanding anything beyond the preservation of these liberties. This perspective fosters a society where individuals are free to pursue their aspirations and interests, unencumbered by undue interference from others.

However, a subtle but significant shift has occurred in recent times. Many Americans now speak not only of natural rights but also of entitlements—asserting rights to a college education, medical care, and even birth control pills. These entitlements represent a departure from the traditional understanding of rights as innate and inviolable, to a notion where individuals lay claim to resources and services provided by others.

This shift in perspective has profound implications. Rather than fostering a community built on mutual respect and individual autonomy, it sets citizens against each other, as competing interests vie for limited resources. Moreover, it undermines the very essence of natural rights, as the concept of entitlements dilutes the purity of these fundamental liberties.

In this paradigm, the notion of rights becomes distorted, losing its moral clarity and becoming a source of contention rather than unity. Instead of fostering a society where individuals are empowered to thrive and flourish, it fosters a culture of entitlement and dependency.

We would appreciate your donation.

To preserve the integrity of natural rights and uphold the principles upon which America was founded, it is imperative to distinguish between rights and entitlements. Embracing the former fosters a society grounded in liberty and individual dignity, while succumbing to the allure of entitlements only serves to sow discord and undermine the very fabric of our nation’s ideals.

Get Your FREE Pocket-sized copy of The Constitution and Declaration of Independence!

Click Here to get yours Today (Hillsdale Constitution Minute)


Want to learn more about the Constitution?
Get Hillsdale’s FREE online course on the Constitution here:
Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the U.S. Constitution

What are the Differences Between Constitutional Rights and Entititlements?

In the context of the U.S. Constitution, “entitlements” and “constitutional rights” represent two distinct concepts relating to what individuals are guaranteed by the government.

Constitutional Rights

Constitutional rights are the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution to all individuals within the United States. These rights are enshrined in the text of the Constitution and its amendments, particularly the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments. Examples include:

  • Freedom of Speech and Religion: Protected by the First Amendment.
  • Right to Bear Arms: Guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
  • Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures: Secured by the Fourth Amendment.
  • Right to Due Process and Equal Protection: Ensured by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

These rights are inherent and inalienable, meaning they are not granted by the government but are recognized as intrinsic to human beings. The government is obligated to protect these rights and cannot infringe upon them without compelling justification and due process.


Entitlements, on the other hand, are government-provided benefits that individuals are legally entitled to receive under specific laws. These are not inherent rights but are granted through legislation and can include various types of public assistance and welfare programs. Examples include

  • Social Security: A federal program that provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits.
  • Medicare: A federal health insurance program primarily for individuals aged 65 and older.
  • Unemployment Benefits: Payments made to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own and meet certain eligibility requirements.
  • Medicaid: A program that provides health coverage to eligible low-income individuals and families.

Entitlements are based on meeting specific eligibility criteria set by legislation, and they are funded through taxpayer dollars. These programs are subject to change through the legislative process, and their availability or the benefits provided can be altered by new laws.

Key Differences:

  1. Source of Authority:
    • Constitutional Rights: Derived directly from the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.
    • Entitlements: Created and regulated by federal and state laws, not directly from the Constitution.
  2. Nature of Guarantee:
    • Constitutional Rights: Fundamental and inalienable, intended to protect individual freedoms from government interference.
    • Entitlements: Benefits provided by the government based on eligibility criteria and subject to legislative changes.
  3. Protection and Enforcement:
    • Constitutional Rights: Protected by the judiciary, with courts able to strike down laws or government actions that violate these rights.
    • Entitlements: Administered by government agencies, with changes implemented through the legislative process.
  4. Flexibility:
    • Constitutional Rights: Generally stable and enduring, requiring constitutional amendments or significant judicial decisions to change.
    • Entitlements: More flexible and subject to budgetary constraints, policy changes, and political decisions.

Understanding these distinctions helps clarify how different guarantees provided to individuals in the U.S. function and the basis upon which they are granted and protected.

The author generated this text in part with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views the Virginia Christian Alliance

About the Author

Jeff Bayard
Diligent Content Manager and composer at the Virginia Christian Alliance, curating and managing articles that uphold Christian values, conservative ideals, and the enduring principles of the U.S. Constitution. With a keen eye for detail and a heart for truth, ensuring that our content resonates with our readers and stays true to our mission. Work: A seasoned professional at a leading freight forwarding company, dedicated to helping logistics and supply chain professionals eliminate disruptions, increase shipment visibility, and accelerate sales growth. With his extensive experience and expertise, Jeff ensures seamless and efficient operations, driving success for his clients.