Tag Archives: human rights

Discussing the Bill of Rights is not an Argument about Politics

In a recent Facebook discussion I was admonished by someone for bringing up politics. The discussion was about the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The Bill of Rights, like many other elements in the Constitution, is not a political subject; the Bill of Rights is a moral statement.

The statement certainly was crafted in the body of a political discussion. The political issue arose, because citizens of the nation defined by the Constitution were understandably concerned about the way the new government would treat them. They looked at the Constitution and asked, “What restrains the government defined here from stepping outside the defined limitations and wreaking havoc with human rights?” The answer from the men who wrote the document was that their intention was for the government to receive only the powers specifically listed in the Constitution. The writers of that document expected its limits to be the limits of the government.

The Bill of Rights is a moral statement.

Many people, very thoughtful people, considered human history and believed that it would be difficult to restrain government by saying, “If it isn’t in the powers enumerated in the Constitution, it is not part of the federal government.” History has proved them to be correct. In fact, the federal government can scarcely restrain itself when exercising an enumerated power; it always wants “just a little bit more,” and always “for the good of the people.”

People who foresaw that very problem were adamant about establishing serious, powerful limits on the exercise of power by the central government defined in the Constitution of the USA. Those people who were vocal during the process of ratifying the Constitution. They complained long and loudly. They exacted promises from those who promoted ratification, promises to protect the rights God had given people at the moment of creation.

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The Not-So-Universal Human Rights

In the USA, people who are committed to living according to the teachings of their faith are protected from persecution and discrimination by the First Amendment to the Constitution. They are also protected by the fact that the US signed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is a large body of legal precedent that supports the rights of citizens to put their obligations to God ahead of a variety of demands by government.

Interestingly, despite having a state church, the UK also has a body of legal precedent that protects religious liberty. When someone in the UK refers to the British “constitution,” it actually references a number of documents on which court decisions are based.

In November, 2012, Humanist Life reported on four cases in the UK in which Christians claimed that their religious liberty was being infringed. It is of value for US Christians to know about these cases because of the language issues. Christians say that the people in these cases simply wanted to exercise their right to religious liberty; secular thinkers say that the people in these cases actually want religious privilege. The problems brought out in these cases are quite similar to problems that have arisen in recent years in the US. The article ridicules the protest of US Catholic Bishops against the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and vilifies parents who circumcise babies in obedience to their faith. This article shows how easy it is to use language to change the terms of a conversation.

Christians in the US quickly find common ground with the Christians in the UK as reported in this article. Continue reading The Not-So-Universal Human Rights

Fundamental Human Rights Are Important to Christians

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the first achievements of the United Nations, was signed by the United States on December 10, 1948. For many countries, the freedoms named in this document were not always comfortable, and many signers fall far from actually protecting the rights in this declaration. Article 18 is particularly problematic for countries with state religions, but the USA has no state religion, and until recently, the USA would have been regarded as exemplary in its enforcement of Article 18. In fact, most American citizens would see in Article 18 a wordier statement that protects the same rights protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the USA.

                The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

                Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights read as follows:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

                It is important to note that the First Amendment protects both a right to the exercise of religion and a right to freedom of speech. The two rights are addressed separately in Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether protected in a single article or in two, those rights are naturally and logically linked, because speech is integral to the exercise of religion. It is worth noting that the authors and legislators who passed the First Amendment did not think it necessary to say that a person was free to change his religion and free to manifest it in teaching, while two hundred years of observation of nations and human oppression motivated the authors of the UDHR to spell out those rights. The fact that they are not elaborated in more words does not reduce the protection of the First Amendment, because all those issues were intended to be incorporated within it. The Founders of the USA wanted to be sure that citizens could speak and act on their faith, including the right to persuasive and instructive speech. Even though they knew that any unprotected human right is subject to be suppressed by an autocratic or dictatorial government, they could hardly have imagined that in the twenty-first century, the freedom to speak of one’s religion and to talk with others about its teachings and its value would be compared to rape. Yet this sort of thing is actually happening in the US military.

                Writing in the Washington Post, Sally Quinn reported a conversation with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation discussing his concerns that military personnel should not be subjected to what he called “proselytizing”: “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.” This is harsh language for the act of sharing our faith that is central to Christian discipleship. Weinstein was returning from a meeting with Pentagon officials where he participated in a discussion of proselytizing, a practice Weinstein considers to be as brutal as sexual assault. Pressed for some explanation of his attitude, Weinstein placed the real onus for such brutality on groups he called “dominionist” and “fundamentalist,” but it is his general attitude that is concerning to Christians. Christians consider Christ’s command to “make disciples” wherever they go to be a foundation principle for obedient discipleship. For any part of the government to attempt to shut down the freedom to talk with others about their faith would simultaneously shut down their freedom to exercise their faith.

                For the moment, the military is attempting to quiet the uproar caused by Mr. Weinstein’s comment. An announcement reported in USA Today simply says that conversations about faith are allowed as long as they don’t constitute harassment. Needless to say, the definition of “harassment” is fairly subjective, but for the moment, it is not considered treason for one soldier to offer to pray with one of his fellow soldiers, or for a petty officer to invite her bunkmates to a prayer meeting.

                This issues concerns Christians, however, because it brings to light an attitude that is not unknown in the culture at large. While many secular thinkers simply ignore Christians, some feel obligated, like Mikey Weinstein, to protest and attempt to suppress expressions of Christian faith. The Freedom From Religion Foundation strongly protests the National Day of Prayer each year. This year’s announcement included this statement: “Don’t let the Christian Right hijack our secular Constitution.” Just last month, the FFRF celebrated joyously because they succeeded in persuading the Breathitt County Schools in Kentucky to remove displays of the Ten Commandments on the basis that the displays amounted to establishing a state religion. (Exactly how a display posted by a school district is in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against an act of Congress to establish a religion is not clear, but the displays were removed nonetheless.)

                While many Christians prefer to stay out of political warfare, they need to know and care about attempts to suppress the freedom to share the faith. The authors of the US Constitution and the authors of the UNDHR all felt strongly about the freedom both to choose a religion and to talk about it with others, even to be persuasive in the conversation. This right is not universally protected. In many countries, the government states a commitment to freedom of religion, but the “freedom” is actually nonexistent due to the tightly constricted legal language. For example in China, people are “free” to be Christians or not as they choose, but if they choose to be Christian, they must belong to a church the government registers and read the Bible the government prints and listen to preachers the government authorizes. If they meet with neighbors for a spontaneous prayer meeting or if they choose to attend a church led by a pastor who did not graduate from the seminary the government operates, they can be arrested and imprisoned. The kind of liberty Christians enjoy in the US today is not common around the world.

                The news about the attempt of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to suppress the sharing of Christian faith is just a hint at the ferocious enmity of some secular thinkers toward Christians. It is worth noting that secular thinkers constitute only one pincer of the cultural challenge Christians face in the US. The other pincer is Islam, and Islam is even more ferociously opposed to Christian evangelism than atheists in general. The move by Islam to promote the incorporation of sharia courts into the American legal structures could result in significant suppression of the ability of Christians to share their testimony with Muslims in the US. In a sharia court it would be a serious crime to converse with a Muslim for the purpose of sharing some other faith.

                Jesus warned Christians that the world would reject them, because the world rejects him. It is clearly as true in the US as in any other nation. Unlike a nation such as China or Uzbekistan, the US actually responds to citizen action to protect rights such as the freedom to exercise the faith. Christians may wish not to be sullied by dirty politics, and they certainly should stay out of the mudfights, but Christians can and they must be voices for the freedom to exercise the faith in speech and action. Pray for the USA, and pray for the continued protection of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Freedoms that are not protected disappear.

Liberty or Equality?

Liberty. Equality. In our American way of life, which is more important? Last Friday, Mark Levin opened his program with this question. Before you read further, please stop and consider these terms. Think about what our way of life is all about. Think about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Think about our Revolutionary War. What were our ancestors fighting for? Liberty? or Equality?

 

When the French, much inspired by the American Revolution and particularly by Benjamin Franklin, set out to topple their king, they marched to the rhythms of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Their revolution never brought to France the stability, the tranquility and the prosperity enjoyed by the USA. Why? What was more important? Liberty? Or Equality?

 

When Russian peasants inspired by the ideas of Marx and under the cunning leadership of V I Lenin threw down the Czar and his empire, what did they want? Liberty? Or Equality?

 

What did they get? To work backwards, the Russian peasants took charge of themselves and created communes. They gave up their land and quite a bit of liberty in order to become equal. They all became equally poor, equally privileged to stand in line for simple necessities such as toilet paper and bread. They gave up the liberty to work for anybody they wished in order to have a guaranteed job in the commune. Everybody ultimately worked for the government, because nobody was allowed to be an employer, except the government. They all had equality in their choice of employer. The government ran the factories that made the tractors, which were all alike. The tractors were all equal, and they all equally fell apart and failed to run. The peasants of Russia obtained equality, but they were all so equally oppressed that they all equally desired to leave. Russia did not have an immigration problem; Russia had an emigration problem.

 

The French were pretty concerned with equality, too. In fact, anyone who reads deeply into the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution quickly discerns a number of common threads. Men and women lost their identity as men and women and became neutered fellow revolutionaries. They engaged in committees where their high-minded ideals of a prosperous liberated future fell victim to human egos, and before they knew it, an artful speaker had high-jacked their revolution and run it into the ground in the wicked winter of 1812. They got a lot more equality than liberty. They sold their liberty for a pack of fine words.

 

The British colonists who undertook to become independent in 1776 were accustomed to English Common Law, and in the context of that legal environment, they knew the difference between liberty and equality. In the litany of their complaints against the king of England, they demanded to recover rights they knew are theirs because they were the rights of all English citizens, but the dominant theme is an insistence on their freedom to procure and protect those rights for themselves. In the bloody, frozen battlefields of the Revolution, men did not give their lives in order to have equal rights. They gave their lives in order to obtain the liberty to protect rights they knew God had already given them. They declared their liberty by naming the rights they intended to protect, but it was liberty, the escape from the tyranny of the empire, that they wanted most of all.

They knew something very important, something the French and the Russian and contemporary liberal politicians do not know. (You may call them progressive if you like, The politics don’t change; just the nomenclature.)They could look at ten homesteads on the edge of a wilderness, ten family farms, ten households, and see ten different lifestyles and incomes. Of the ten some would successfully feed, clothe and shelter their growing families. Others would barely make ends meet. Yet all were at liberty to do the best they could imagine or dream with the opportunity before them. The colonists turned American citizens knew that if everyone was free, then everyone had the same shot at success, because the hindrances to success imposed by oppressive laws and the machinations of politics did not matter out there at the edge of civilization. The truth was the same for all locations, but it was most clearly visible at the frontiers. That is where they could most readily see the truth that if a man has liberty, he can make his own way, but he only has equality, he is oppressed.

We know it here in the mooring field where our boat is currently located. There are probably 200 boats in this mooring field. They are all sizes, all sorts of designs. Each is truly unique, as unique as each owner. The boats in the mooring field are not equal by any means. They vary widely from extremely luxurious to extremely utilitarian. They are not equal, but they are all equally at liberty to come and go as they please. Each has the same right to moor as all the others, and nobody owes the others anything but common courtesy. They are not equal, but they are all equally free. That is the root of the real happiness of the cruisers who reside in these boats. They are free, and they don’t really worry much about being equal. They didn’t all want to be the same, and that is why no two boats are ever alike.

The most important element of our national government, the element proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution is our liberty. Our form of government was never intended to procure equality, because that objective so easily leads to tyranny. Just listen to all the scathing words about “the rich.” As soon as everyone is economically equal, somebody squanders his allotment, and then you must redistribute everything. As soon as all the skin-colors have been mollified, those with red hair start feeling picked on. Do you require everyone to have red hair? Or at least wear a red wig in order to achieve equality in hair color? Where does it end? If you start giving everyone equal vehicles, can you manufacture them rapidly enough to give everyone a new one at the same time? If you spread it out, will you have given everyone a new one before the first folks need a replacement? Then is it equal or not? Can you give the first folks something different when you start the new round of distribution?

America is not the land of equality. We have always prided ourselves on assuring equality before the law, which is to say, we pride ourselves that a rich man and a poor man stand before blind Justice and receive the just disposition of their conflict. Being human, we have found that an elusive goal at times. Nevertheless, what we value above equality is liberty. Equality becomes tyranny. The goal of equality has eroded our conversation as we struggle to find just the right word to avoid offending anyone. We want all our words to be completely neutral. The goal of equality is eroding the meaning of family, even the meaning of humanity. America has not been the land of equality, because equality becomes oppression. Who gets to say what equal means? Who gets to distribute the equal gifts? Who is more equal than others? Read 1984 and find out what happens when equality is the goal.

America has always been the land of the free. Above all other things, people came to this country to be free. If you read what immigrants say about us, you will find that they don’t much talk about equality. They want to be free so they can be whatever they dream. Not equal. Better than that.

Liberty? Or Equality? I’ll take liberty any day.

Pray for Saeed Abedini and his family

In an article published shortly after Pastor Saeed was sentenced, his wife said that he has twenty days to appeal his conviction. Pray Psalm 57 for Saeed Abedini. Speak his name instead of saying “I” or “me” as you pray this psalm.