Just about everyone agrees on the need to respect human rights, and no modern regime admits to violating rights. And yet we know that, in practice, governments all over the world are constantly doing so.
In my travels, I minister to people in hiding for practicing their religion, people afraid to speak for fear of the police, and people forbidden from freely associating. In many countries, legal institutions do not adequately protect private property (a basis of social peace and prosperity) as a human right. In our own country, there is a reluctance to admit that human rights extend from the first moment of existence.
What is the source of human rights? Here is where we find disagreement. Some people believe that rights are granted by government or society, while others believe (correctly) that rights flow from the inherent dignity of the human person who is always and everywhere made in God's image and likeness.
This question is not just philosophical. If rights come from government, there is no higher authority to which we can appeal rights violations. And certainly governments have not shown themselves to be trustworthy guardians of rights. Human rights organization can do great good in monitoring, but they would do an even better job if they accepted a point central to the Jewish and Christian faith traditions: the human person possesses rights by virtue of a dignity rooted in the Creator.
What appears at first to be merely an intellectual problem has profound consequences in the real world. It is essential that believers in liberty root their arguments in the reality of the Providential Hand at work in the world. It is faith that gives the concept of human rights its substance and meaning. This is a message that goes to the core of the mission of the Action Institute, which you have so generous supported with your contributions and prayers.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico
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