Human Rights? Only for Some Humans
State governments, the Federal Government, and Supreme Court have been clear and consistent throughout U.S. history: Rights and Constitutional protections are not for allhumans; those protections are only for those legally recognized as persons—according to whatever subjective criteria the ruling elite are using at any given time. Focusing the argument on Human Rights protects innocent life on both ends of the mortal life continuum.
My daughter, Jennifer, tends to be a bit timid and shy. She has formed solid opinions but, unlike myself, doesn’t feel compelled to share them with everyone who walks by. In other words, she is not a fan of confrontation. She has had a quieter faith and has found less “in-your-face” ways to open the discussion. When she was in high school, she would wear a shirt that had a picture of a garbage can with the caption under it: “This is no place for a baby.” Jennifer was one of only perhaps two or three who were pro-life in her freshman class.
During that time, she had to compose a persuasive paper for her English class and wanted to write “Murder is Socially Acceptable” to compare slavery, the Holocaust, and abortion. Her teacher’s response was: The concept is interesting, but there is no evidence abortion is murder, and so she wouldn’t let her write the paper. Jennifer was not happy, and as the old saying goes: “When Jennifer ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Instead of giving up, she decided to reframe the argument and write a persuasive paper demonstrating that abortion is murder. As we thought about it and talked with a few teachers and college professors we know, we realized Jennifer’s teacher probably has one or two students each year who want to make a biblical case for a pro-life position. Jennifer and I decided the best approach would be to make a sound, compelling case, which would be consistent with biblical teaching, but not quote the Bible in the process. She gathered the scientific data on fetal development, talked about what is in the mother’s womb (a human rather than a plant, bird, fish, etc.), and Jennifer developed her persuasive argument. After reading it, her teacher changed her personal opinion from “pro-choice” to “pro-life.” In a later class assignment, she was to debate students who took a “pro-choice” position; and she went first. I suggested while giving her a positive “pro-life” case; she should refute the arguments the other students likely would use for the “pro-choice” position. After she finished, the students affirming the “pro-choice” side, really didn’t know what to do since their arguments had been destroyed before they even took the floor.
Reframing the Argument
The July 22, 2010, Washington Times article “Clinton pushes Vietnam on human rights progress” raised the issue of human rights in foreign lands (in this case Vietnam), and how much Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would focus on that in her discussions with the leaders of Vietnam. Some of the U.S. Congress thought this important as well:
“The government of Vietnam’s desire to reap the benefits of the global economy must be matched by efforts to respect comprehensive human rights,” a bipartisan group of 19 members of Congress wrote to Clinton on July 15.
As I read this and other articles since then, I thought back to Jennifer’s high school days, which seems another lifetime ago now that our grandchildren are getting close to their teen years themselves. A new idea or way to reframe the human rights argument began to crystallize. This is a subject I have been thinking about for a while, but there was something in that particular article; or perhaps, it was just the mood I was in while reading it, but I wondered: Do humans have rights based solely on being human, or is there some other criteria? If there are some other criteria, is it constant, or does it change from culture to culture and/or time to time in order to exclude certain humans from protection? Rather than simply developing a position and asserting my view is correct, I decided to put the question to an organization that specializes in addressing violations of human rights: Amnesty International. I e-mailed them and asked:
There seems to be some confusion when using the term “human rights.” Do you mean by this that humans have rights based solely on being human? If a nation decides that a human is not legally a person and, therefore, has no rights, for only persons have rights, is that something you affirm?
The question is fairly simple and straightforward. Do humans have rights because they are human, or are there some other criteria for deciding which humans are worthy of human-rights protections? Perhaps, a human has no inherent rights, and lawmakers or the ruling elite in various societies are free to use any arbitrary criteria they choose in defining which humans have rights and which ones do not. Currently, in the United States, only those who are legally deemed a “person” are members of the protected class. In this scenario, non-persons—human or not—do not have any legal rights and, therefore, are not deserving of protection. I received their response in less than 24 hours:
Thank you for your interest in Amnesty International and the work that we do.
I’m unaware of the confusion that you mention.
Human rights are those which all humans should be entitled to, regardless of legislation introduced by an individual country that may undermine any of these.
I do not understand your differentiation between people and humans, but I hope that this goes some way to answer your question.
I have spoken with others and asked this question and have watched as they, like Amnesty International, also short-circuited and changed the parameters of the question from “person” to “people.” There is an important distinction here. The word person is a legal designation and may be applied to a human or a corporation. It might be people or some other legal entity. On the other hand, the word people is used interchangeably with human. So, people are always human, but person may not be. I responded to Amnesty International:
Thank you for your timely response and clear answer. The confusion wasn’t between “people” and “human” but between “person” and “human.” For example, in the United States, when slavery was legal, no one denied that slaves were human. However, in the eyes of the law, they were not “persons.”1 Therefore, even though they were human but not persons, they had no rights or protections under the law. They were simply property and could be cared for and protected or beaten, sold, dismembered, and even killed without legal reprisal since they were not persons and had no rights. This classification was based on the arbitrary criteria of skin color.
Currently, preborn humans are legally classified as non-persons based on the arbitrary criteria of geography. They are living inside the womb vs. outside the womb. Based on these arbitrary criteria, state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court do not extend “personhood” and the attendant legal rights and protections afforded “persons” until a geographical change occurs from inside the womb to outside the womb. Even though human, they are property and can be cared for and nurtured until they make the geographical change; or they can be dismembered, burned to death with saline, or even have their brains vacuumed out a few centimeters away from a full geographical change, since they are property and not persons even though human. As long as this arbitrary classification stands, I am not really sure on what basis someone could say that slavery was wrong or, in the case of other nations, if they are abusing humans who have been legally classified as non-persons on what basis they could be charged with human rights violations? In the U.S., legally, persons have rights, humans do not.
It has been nearly two years, and so far, they have not responded. At this point, I doubt they will. I think I can safely assume it is probable they have chosen to ignore the question at this point. Why? Well, if they affirm the law can use any arbitrary criterion which excludes certain humans from protection to determine a legal definition of person, then there is really no “human rights” basis on which to say slavery was wrong. After all, slavery was legal. The ruling elite of that day determined the slaves legally were not fully counted as persons in the census (which determined state representation) even though they were human. It is wrong to own slaves in the United States today, but that is only because the criteria for human rights are arbitrary and changeable, and, consequently, the current law has changed and eliminated skin color as a criterion for being a person or non-person. It isn’t because today’s blacks are any more human than were their ancestors, but simply because the ruling elite currently has declared it to be so.