July 08, 2019
We know how the founders defined human rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Two hundred forty-three years later, those rights haven't changed -- but our understanding of them certainly has. There wouldn't be enough parchment in colonial America if Thomas Jefferson had to include all of the ridiculous new interpretations of the concept. Suddenly, free health care is a "basic human right." So is college tuition, U.S. immigration, and abortion-on-demand. If Americans want to advance human rights, President Trump believes, we have to agree on what they are. And that's where the State Department comes in.
Earlier today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a big step to make sure Americans are all reading off the same page when it comes to our fundamental freedoms. Words like "rights," he said at this morning's press conference, can be used for "good and evil." It's time, he insisted, to revisit the most basic questions. "The distinctive mark of Western civilization is the belief in the inherent worth of human beings, with the attendant respect for God-authored rights and liberties," Pompeo has said. What are those rights and liberties? His new commission aims to explain.
"...[T]he Trump administration has embarked on a foreign policy that takes seriously the founders' ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government," the secretary told reporters. "Those principles have long played a prominent role in our country's foreign policy, and rightly so. But as that great admirer of the American experiment Alex de Tocqueville noted, democracies have a tendency to lose sight of the big picture in the hurly-burly of everyday affairs. Every once in a while, we need to step back and reflect seriously on where we are, where we've been, and whether we're headed in the right direction, and that's why I'm pleased to announce today the formation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights."
And not a moment too soon, proponents say. "Defending and promoting freedom is an essential element of U.S. foreign policy," Aaron Rhodes agreed in today's Wall Street Journal, "and one that's been neglected by recent administrations... Rather than focus on freedom, they've sought to impose particular moral values on other societies. They have ignored and abrogated important standards in their own conduct of U.S. policy." Without any transcendent point of reference, he explains, "human rights are seen as arbitrary 'values,' no different from the laws of rulers and legislatures that authentic human-rights standards are there to constrain."
Of course, not everyone was happy with the announcement. Organizations on the far-Left, who've spent the last several years cloaking their social agendas in the language of "human rights," are worried Pompeo will get in the way of their global activism. After all, professor Clifford Bob points out in the Washington Post, the Trump administration was already working to return the definition of "human rights" to its roots, "purg[ing] all references to 'sexual and reproductive health' at the United Nations since 2017."
But, as this administration would tell you, the term "human rights" never should have been used as an ideological weapon in the first place. This commission's job, Rhodes explains, is to recognize what real freedom and dignity looked like "before it was exploited to serve political agendas." Once it does, America can start truly holding the world's worst abusers accountable.
The work, Secretary Pompeo agrees, is urgent. "Oppressive regimes like Iran and Cuba have taken advantage of this cacophonous call for 'rights,' even pretending to be avatars of freedom." He's right. Unfortunately, the global consensus on human rights has eroded so much over the last several years that some of the greatest offenders on the international stage have wormed their way onto "human rights commissions" in their search for international legitimacy. The commission's work could "help reorient" groups like the United Nations, Pompeo hopes, back to their original missions.
For now, we join the millions of people around the world in applauding the Trump administration. By taking such a strong leadership role, they're helping every country see the importance of protecting these basic freedoms. That matters -- because in the end, the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly aren't just American rights -- they're human rights.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.