Natural law was once perceived as a body of objective moral truth infused into the world by the Creator. It held sway over all men and their rulers, requiring obedience of believer and unbeliever alike, and finding its Scriptural rationale in such passages as Romans 1:19-20 and 2:14-16. It is the law written on the heart of every human being that enables all of us to agree that such things as murder, rape, theft, and perjury are wrong. In principle, it was the goal of positive or written law to reflect accurately the spirit of the natural law. This view has changed in modern times. The emphasis has shifted from the idea of natural law to that of natural rights founded on the notion of our status as autonomous human beings. It is now up to the government to create obligatory laws, but only at the consent of the governed whose interest it is to have their autonomy preserved.
Therefore, it is no longer the government’s prerogative to create laws in concert with a preexisting natural law which all men must obey, but to create laws that protect autonomous individual freedom. As a result, the United States Constitution as positive law now stands above natural law. Natural law no longer dictates positive law, but instead is subordinate to it. Natural law serves only as a source of principles that guide us in interpreting positive law in terms of individual rights. Among these rights is the individual’s civil liberty to make his own moral choices free of governmental intrusion or coercion, save the restriction that one’s exercise of this right must not infringe upon another’s equal right to so choose.
Such a view of natural law leaves it quite malleable to changing times and circumstances. Since the notion of natural law no longer suggests the existence of a changeless body of objective moral truth, we are able to adjust natural law such that it remains in tune with man’s alleged “progress” in knowledge and understanding. Therefore, notions of “morality” become hopelessly relativistic, and the positive law becomes little more than an instrument by means of which litigants gain public affirmation for their personal lifestyles as autonomous individuals rather than an application of eternal and transcendent moral truths.