What is the Difference Between a Prohibition and a Right?

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  • Written By: R. Kimball
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 28 January 2020
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The difference between a prohibition and a right is basic. A prohibition is a restriction against something. A right is permission to do something. Generally, laws and contracts place restrictions on a person’s actions; they do not remove a person’s rights.

A right is sometimes considered an abstract idea of what a person is entitled to by law or tradition. It is sometimes difficult to define how one receives such rights. Many governments have a body of law that describes the rights endowed upon citizens. Governments are often careful when placing restrictions upon the rights endowed in these documents.

A prohibition limits or restricts what may be done. Historically, one of the greatest prohibitions was the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. The laws passed relating to alcohol restricted its manufacture, transportation, sale, and consumption. In this instance, the difference between a prohibition and a right could be extreme. The prohibition was so expansive that it restricted any rights associated with alcoholic beverages.

Many jurisdictions have a minimum age that must be met in order for a person to legally purchase alcoholic beverages. This age differs, depending upon the jurisdiction. One may not be allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages until a certain age. The right granted is that once one reaches a certain age, he or she may purchase alcoholic beverages. In this instance, a prohibition and a right are determined by the same law.


There are similar circumstances in certain jurisdictions where a prohibition and a right are set by the same law with regard to the right to vote. Most jurisdictions have a minimum age that must be met prior to a person receiving the right to vote. These laws may have certain exceptions to meeting the minimum age, such as serving in the armed forces; however, the law itself places a restriction on who may vote until a person reaches a set age. The law grants the right to vote upon reaching that age.

Even though there is a difference between a prohibition and a right, these two concepts work together in many circumstances. Frequently, a law places a restriction on who or what may be done until a set requirement is met. When the requirement is met, a special permission may be granted to all or certain parties. The first part of the law is a prohibition, and the second part of the law grants a right.


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