The Basics of Human Rights

quotes-677Human rights are the freedoms to which every single human is entitled. For the purpose of keeping this article shorter and reasonably simple, I’m focusing on the rights of free adults. I’ll set aside for now the issues of rights for criminals and the complex relationship between parents and the rights of their children.

When we talk about human rights in terms of morality and the laws of a nation, we are talking about the moral space in which a person is allowed total freedom to make their own choices and act on their own desires in whatever way they see fit, without punishment or other retaliation from the law’s enforcers. In order to clarify what this means, I’m going to explain a few principles.

1) No human right is without restrictions; the right to life exists only within the boundaries of your life’s beginning and your death. That example is pretty obvious, but others are more subtle. The right of free speech, for example, does not mean you can repeatedly harass someone who wants you to stop talking to them, which leads into the next principle…

2) You do not have the right to infringe the rights of other people. The right to bear weapons gives you the freedom to own and carry a gun only within the limits necessarily imposed by the rights of others. You do not have the right to shoot someone just because you want to, since that would be a violation of their rights. To infringe means to break the terms of an agreement. Our rights are a mutual agreement based on a shared system of morality. In order to maintain your own freedom, you also agree to maintain the freedom of others. This is because…

3) Human rights are equally valid for all people (again, setting aside the more complex issues of criminals and children). This does not mean that everyone should be equally free to only follow specific beliefs. It means that everyone should be just as free to believe, speak, and act on their own opinions, no matter what they are. In order for marriage rights to be truly equal, a heterosexual Christian and a gay atheist would both need to have the freedom to view marriage from their own perspective and to marry the person they love. Christians like to argue that the gay person has an equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex. This doesn’t work because it’s no different than if you mandated converting to Christianity, and then claimed he has an equal right to be a Christian. This logic is how you create tyranny, and it’s exactly the opposite of how the founders of America intended our laws to work. In fact, the authors of our founding documents made it clear that…

4) Human rights are not granted or allowed, they are inherent truths that should always be respected by those in power. Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” Your rights are not derived from the laws of your country, but from your very existence as a sentient human being. Imagine if you were the only sentient being in existence. You would have unlimited rights to do anything and everything you wanted, because there would be no force to argue against it. When you add more beings with the same autonomy, it gets more complicated because suddenly there are things you should not do because they would infringe the rights that the other beings have (this is why I say morality is a mutual agreement among people for the benefit of everyone involved). But as a basic principle, your human rights come from your existence and autonomy as a human.

There is a lot more to be said on the matter, but perhaps these principles will work as a foundation on which we can base future conversations. These are universal principles that people of any belief system should be able to agree with. Everyone should be glad that the Supreme Court is ruling in favor of personal freedoms. If they ruled as many Christians want them to, but about Christianity instead of LGBT rights, those Christians would let out a deafening cry of discrimination and persecution, and they would be right to do so because such a ruling would violate their basic human rights.

If the Supreme Court ruled against the personal freedoms of LGBT people, then Christians could reasonably fear that it would set a precedence for ruling against the personal freedoms of religious people. As it stands, the ruling on same-sex marriage was based on the principle of equal rights for all people regardless of their beliefs, and it is the same principle that will also protect the opponents of the ruling if their freedoms are ever up for debate.


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