The first human rights organization was established in the United States in 1776 when the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from England. The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, the foundation of American human rights, reads …
"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.”
What a wonderful, all-inclusive statement of rights it was! Or was it?
Let's consider the fact that the Declaration made no provisions of equality for races such as African slaves and Native-American “savages,” for women, for the disabled, for the young, or for those of other gender identities. In truth, the statement of rights extended only to a segment of the privileged white population of the time.
Over the last 240 years a multitude has given their time, effort, and even their lives to defend, refine, and re-define American human rights – human rights intended for all, not just for some. Early on, the Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791) helped establish a broader interpretation of equality in the United States. And, the struggle in pursuit of unalienable rights continues.
Because the attainment of rights is ongoing, the struggle for life, liberty, and happiness in America is perpetual. By its very nature, independence requires the utmost attention and nurturing from those charged to strive toward its lofty ideals. As long as even a few people are oppressed in America, no one lives in a state of equality. “All created equal” are words unshackled by limitation.
How difficult is it to guarantee human rights?
Consider that specific human rights include the following:
* The right to due process of law,
* The rights to freedom of thought, expression, religion, organization, and movement,
* The right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, language, and sex,
* The right to basic education,
* The right to employment, and
* The right to property.
Are these human rights guaranteed to all in the United States? Presumably, yes. Are they given freely to all? I think not. Consider the poor, the aged, the LGBT community, racial minorities, refugees.
People can be quick to criticize less-fortunate individuals. Some bristle about “politically correct” language as being too sensitive. Some claim the government and courts extend too many privileges to those who don't deserve them – for example, they despise those who receive welfare or similar state assistance. These people argue that certain minorities – races, ages, economic groups – should not be protected as equals because they do not “do their fair share.” There are those who even defame and maliciously stereotype struggling people as criminals.
Lately it seems there are more and more of those who think that taking away liberty and equality from those unlike themselves is in order. They feel empowered to judge others who hold different opinions as “unworthy.” They even wish to impose restrictions upon the “bad” people because they are disgusted at their own lack of privilege or because they think single interpretations of “moral behavior” and “religious belief” must be mandatory for all people.
Conservative evangelicals now represent one of the most vocal groups in judgment. The vast majority of them wish to take away rights to abortion, to gender identities, to gay marriage, and to separation of church and state. Many have a narrow view of accepted “family life,” immigration, and substance use. Although this group claims they are being persecuted for their beliefs, they lobby for governmental restrictions on those they deem incorrect. They see anything opposing them as lawless and Godless.
The amazing irony of the religious right is that by voting for a conservative ideological agenda, they have actually hurt the poor, resisted immigration reform, promoted endless foreign wars, and neglected the environment. How can their efforts to marginalize and demonize others extend equality in America?
God bless the masses of gullible, poor people in the Evangelical movement who are so frustrated in their efforts to be recognized that they have become unhinged and turned toward idolizing rich, privileged, controlling interests … but … it is time for truly “good” folks to wash from their eyes the anger and resentment of others and to join movements to advance human rights for all.
If enough people follow certain narrow interests, I fear a stagnant, ultra-right nation will develop; it will then be a place where the privileged choke any and all hopes of unalienable rights from dissenters. Right now so many struggle every day for their share of life, liberty, and happiness. Shouldn't it be our mission to uplift those in need instead of attempting to mold them into forms that fulfill our own visions of independence? No one wants to strive toward an American delusion, rather they wish to fulfill their birthright of an American Dream.