What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored? How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn but simply by virtue of our humanity, belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?
► Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, July 8, 2019
As an article in the New Yorker suggested,1 Pompeo’s answer to the question may be found in the members appointed to a new Commission on Unalienable Rights, whose chair, Mary Ann Glendon, is best known for opposition to same-sex marriage. Among other members, “Peter Berkowitz, of the Hoover Institution, has argued that human rights are, in essence, religious rights – indeed, that the source of all human rights is Christianity. … Christopher Tollefsen, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, has written that embryos are human beings and has argued that the Pope went too far when he suggested that the use of contraceptives may be permissible to prevent transmission of the Zika virus to newborns.”
The rights in question seem to put those of religion – certain religious ideas, obviously not all – at the top of the heap. Beyond that, the article said, “In effect, the new commission will contemplate who is and isn’t human, and who, therefore, possesses inalienable rights. Most of the commissioners appear to believe that embryos are human. Many of them also appear to subscribe to the Trump Administration’s general position that trans people do not exist.”
Some of this is a response to an expanding list of human rights over the last – well, three or four hundred years. But what’s being looked at in cases like this is a regression is almost no rights at all, unless your religious beliefs comport with those of the politically powerful.