Are there any rights that absolutely cannot be denied under any circumstance in the United States?

2 Answers 2


No rights are absolute. All rights exist in some fashion of conflict with other rights, in particular when they clash with the rights or welfare of others.

  • 1
    See the list in my answer. Can you think of any case in which any of those rights may be lawfully denied by any court or government official or agency in the US? If so, please specify it. Jul 2, 2022 at 22:56
  • 1
    This is the clearly correct answer. Orient Ins. Co. v. Daggs, 172 U.S. 557, 566, 19 S. Ct. 281, 284 (1899) ("It would be idle and trite to say that no right is absolute.").
    – bdb484
    Jul 3, 2022 at 6:48

Most rights do indeed have limits where they collide with the rights of others, or the public welfare. But there are some rights that are absolute in US law. Of course these can be violated, but not lawfully. The following are in no particular order.

  • One cannot be lawfully enslaved in the US, although a convicted criminal may be sentenced to hard labor if a statute so provides.

  • One cannot lawfully be held in peonage, aka debt-slavery, in the US. (That is a situation where a person who owes a debt is legally compelled to work for the creditor, and is jailed if the person refuses or tries to escape.)

  • One cannot be lawfully convicted of crime in the US without having been afforded the basic elements of Due Process of Law, including: an independent tribunal; the right to present a defense; the right to present witnesses in that defense; the right to know the charges; the right to competent legal assistance. In most but not all cases there is also a right to a jury trial.

  • One cannot be lawfully compelled by a government official to take part in a religious observance or service, nor may an adult be legally compelled by anyone at all.

  • One cannot be lawfully compelled to affirm or deny a religious or political belief.

  • One cannot have one's property seized without due process of law, although just what process is due will vary depending on the circumstances.

  • One cannot be lawfully compelled to support a religious organization.

  • One cannot be lawfully compelled to vote (in a governmental election) for a particular candidate, or indeed at all.

  • One who is eligible to vote at all in a particular election cannot lawfully be prohibited from voting for a particular candidate. However, if the candidate is later found ineligible, the vote may not be counted.

  • One may not lawfully be compelled to participate in any sex act.

  • One may not lawfully be compelled to marry any particular person.

There may be others. There are many rights with are all but absolute, that can only be denied under more or less unusual circumstances, but that I can think of situations in which such a right might lawfully be denied to someone.

People are, of course unlawfully denied rights far too often, but that is not what is being discussed here.

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    Several of these examples are quite clearly incorrect. The Thirteenth Amendment has a slavery exception written right into it. Parents and persons acting in loco parentis can compel religious observance. And of course your list includes several examples that themselves cite well known exceptions. If you have to limit it to "eligible" voters, for example, the right to vote is not absolute; simultaneously, characterizing rights as absolute as long as the law permits them is basically meaningless.
    – bdb484
    Jul 3, 2022 at 0:11
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    The 13th permits "involuntary servitude" (aka "hard labor") as a punishment for crime. It does not permit true slavery, which involves the right to sell the slave. I mentioned the crime exception in my answer. I have now dealt with the parental control issue. On voting, my point was t hat if a person is a lawful voter, s/he cannot be compelled to vote for one candidate rather than another. that is, the right of a voter to vote as s/he chooses is absolute. Jul 3, 2022 at 0:22
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    The voting example is a good example of the problem here, I think, as it's premised on one being a "lawful" voter. Naturally we all have an absolute right to do anything lawful, but that sort of skips over the question of whether there are circumstances in which doing the same thing is not lawful. In the case of voting for the candidate of your choice, it is depressingly easy to rattle of a list of infringements on that right, so casting it as "absolute" is unhelpful when qualified to make the statement true, and incorrect when not qualified.
    – bdb484
    Jul 3, 2022 at 6:43
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    I believe you have exchanged specific acts with defined rights. And those you have defined are only so defined as long as the USSC so defines them. Peonage was outlawed by Congress. Your example of convicted criminals invalidates slavery. Guantanamo Bay prisoners did not have due process of law. Alcoholics are often forced into AA, which is religious. Etc., etc., etc.
    – Tiger Guy
    Jul 3, 2022 at 19:36
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    The issue with the answer (and question) is basically one of semantics. If I say "I have a(n absolute) right to say whatever I want whenever I want", that we know is false. But if I say "I have an absolute right to say what I want under certain specific circumstances and restrictions", then this is a truism. If one specifies a "right" in sufficient detail it becomes absolute by definition. One just has to arbitrarily decide how much detail is permitted if they want to exclude this. Jul 4, 2022 at 19:47

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