The Inventing of America
“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, human rights invented America.”
- former President and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter,1981
It is inconceivable. More than two centuries after the founding of this nation, whose very creation was based on the unalienable rights of all human beings, basic human rights are still denied to many by our government. High-level officials are using the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of words and phrases to legally justify violations of human rights where they deem it necessary. Such wayward thinking is not only cause for dismay but is detrimental to us all - as citizens, as a nation and as human beings.
Do you remember the simple yet powerful declaration made by the Founding Fathers?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."Those words introduced to the world the basic principles upon which our nation was founded. The evolution of our nation through various conflicts both foreign and domestic has brought us, now, nearly full circle. The very principles that led us to initiate a new country, founded upon these beliefs, have been jeopardized.
Less than two weeks ago, we published a reminder – “Ten Characteristics of ‘A True US Patriot’” - to our fellow citizens. With the words of our Founding Fathers in mind, we crafted the second characteristic to read as follows:
A True US Patriot –The phrase "even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs" not only emphasizes the right to worship or not worship as one chooses, but also recalls that this right and freedom is universal, and religious doctrine is not to be imposed upon nor used to restrict the freedoms of anyone.
holds the principles of the Declaration of Independence to be self-evident and defends the rights of others, even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs; believing that all men are created equal, even in times of war, and that human rights apply not only to one group of people or nation, but to all.
This Characteristic also alludes to some of the later Civil Rights advances. During the first years of exploration into the country, Native Americans were wrongly considered by many to be savages. Faux science and religious beliefs were used to legitimize the use of slaves by classifying the enslaved as 'less than human'. Similar reasoning was used to justify the subjugation of women by denying them the right to vote or to own property. We are once again seeing a re-emergence of this line of thinking with respect to gay rights and the treatment of "enemies of the state". These examples demonstrate the dangers of allowing the beliefs of a few to dictate civil law for all: such narrowly-defined beliefs serve to justify laws which oppress and discriminate against fellow human beings.
We must remember that the words of both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were not just thrown together while a bunch of guys were sitting around over coffee. These words were deliberately chosen in order to convey the founding fathers’ belief that every living, breathing human being had these same rights.
It does not say "All citizens of the American colonies" or "of the United States". It says "ALL men"— as in all of humanity.
It does not say "endowed by the God of Abraham". It says "by THEIR CREATOR". The word "their" signifies how the individual defines "creator". "Creator" does not imply gender, religion, or even a deity for that matter. Nature or science or chance can create.
"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" means that we are free to live our lives according to the beliefs that make us happy. In other words, to live our lives as we see fit.
The Declaration of Independence also declares, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". The purpose of the government is to protect our right to live our lives as we see fit , and that purpose exists by the will and consent of the people. We gave the government that purpose, and we are the ones who have the right to restrict or remove it.
There is only ONE way in which every single individual on this planet can live their life as they see fit and that is to accept the unalienable responsibility that is the other side of the coin to our unalienable rights, and that is to voluntarily limit our own actions in such a way that they do not interfere with the rights of others to live THEIR lives according to the social and spiritual beliefs that make THEM happy.
That means we don't steal from others, NOT because it is morally wrong, but because it would interfere with another person's right to live their life as they see fit.
An individual may believe that a God dictates all human morality, thereby exercising their right to believe as they choose. In turn, the founding purpose of our nation states that the individual must allow all others the same freedom of choice, even if that choice disagrees with one's own views. We all must recognize that, from another's perspective, our personal beliefs may be considered "wrong", yet we would still want them to respect our right to hold those differing beliefs. Therefore, we must be willing to extend the same rights and respect to others. That is why a True US Patriot “defends the rights of others, even when those rights conflict with personal and religious beliefs”.
Unfortunately, sometimes those who violate the US Constitution are the same people charged with protecting it. As recent government policies, both foreign and domestic have demonstrated, it is important for us to emphasize that the basic principles of humanity apply not only to one group of people or nation, but to all. This acknowledges the intent of the founding fathers when they stated "ALL men are created equal". Unalienable rights and freedoms don't change based on national boundaries, conditions of citizenship, or membership in the same economic or philosophic "club". Neither do the basic tenets of humane and just treatment, the recognition of basic human dignity, or the application of standards of integrity change for any reason.
It is particularly important to remember this during interactions involving those with whom we are engaged in any sort of conflict, whether it be on the personal, national or international level. This is underscored by use of the phrase "even in times of war". Human beings do not stop being human — or lose their unalienable rights — simply because we're on opposite sides of a military encounter. If respect for others, even those we may designate as "enemies", is lost, then our own self-respect is also lost.
Those who treat others as "less than human" make themselves less than human. And, by extension, their fellow citizens.