Should human rights always outweigh religious rights?
This is the title of a recent debate produced by the BBC that aired as part of ‘The Big Question’ last sunday, January 12, 2014.
I was stunned that the question had to be asked at all, and it’s a sign for rational thinkers that there is lot to be done. For one, religious rights do not, or should not, exist. Modern rights have nothing to with religion, and everything to do with justice. But let’s assume they do. Obviously, the underlying question is really
‘if human rights and religious rights are at odds, which one should take precedence’?
If the two agree, there is nothing to discuss.
“Voice for Justice UK“, is a christian belief organization that focuses on maintaining “the original Articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights”. Yes, you’re right – that’s a deceptively benign name for an organization whose main purpose is to fight certain human rights like freedom of sexuality or children’s rights (these were ratified after 1948). But anyway, VFJUK sent Lynda Rose to act as Voice in the debate. In a comment posted before the broadcast, she wrote:
But now, apparently, the newly claimed sexual rights of a minority are being prioritised over all other traditional rights, to the extent that ‘religious’ rights are now being assigned a separate, and seemingly subsidiary, category
First of all, it doesn’t matter if rights are new or old – they are only ‘new’ in a sense that they have been written down recently. They should have been universal from day one. Like the laws of Physics, they existed before their discovery. Unlike natural laws, they can be broken. But the human right to live didn’t just exist since 1948 – it existed before; it merely wasn’t enforced. What’s more, all rights apply to everyone, not just some minority. It’s impossible for Lynda to not know that. Claiming that a minority has ‘special rights’ is skirting dangerously close to fear mongering.
I should also point out that ‘Traditional Rights’ in the context of her comment include rights that have been discarded, like the right to own slaves, or the right to discipline your wife if she disobeys. Just because traditionally some people had them does not mean that they were well-conceived. ‘Traditional’ does not trump ‘just’, Lynda, and it troubles me greatly that I must point this out.
Not surprisingly, the ‘newly claimed’ rights that Lynda rails against are the rights of homosexuals to not being discriminated against. It really puzzles me when someone calls the human right not to be discriminated against ‘new’. It’s not new, it has been the right of every human from the dawn of time. It’s only been recognized in 1948, and somewhat later been amended to extend to sexual discrimination. Homosexuals don’t have more rights than anyone else; they have exactly the same rights, and the amendment was necessary because the civilized world recognized that some were being withheld from them.
More disappointingly, though, Lynda seemingly argues that there are universally acceptable ‘religious rights’. This is emphasized by her introduction:
what really astonished me was the easy assumption that human and ‘religious’ rights are different.
They are not.
Yes they are! There is no such thing as a ‘religious right’ – there are merely privileges that many believers feel they are entitled to – and they react violently when they are denied. There simply are no religious rights – which shows the extend of irrationality that this debate is based upon. Rights based on religion or divinity are thankfully a part of our dark past. Today’s laws are mostly built upon humanism. The right of religious freedom is not a religious right. It allows you to do to yourself, and only to yourself, whatever religious thing you want. It includes the freedom to not being religious, and therefore cannot be called a religious right. It’s called a ‘human’ right for a reason.
Most disappointingly of all, though, Lynda closes her comment with this:
On the programme I was reviled for saying we are approaching a time in this country when we may well see active persecution against Christians. I am forced to admit I was wrong – it has already begun.
It’s incredibly selfish and revealing at the same time that Rose tries to make victims out of perpetrators. New legislation was formed to stem the tide of injustice committed by believers. These people seem to think that since it is their ‘tradition’ to mistreat some people it should be kept as a ‘traditional right’. They assert that the new legislation ‘persecutes’ them. Christians in the UK don’t know what persecution is. All they are experiencing here is that some of their self-asserted privileges are being curtailed in the interest of a more ethical community. That’s not persecution. That’s merely called ‘justice’.
There are human rights, which are universal and unalienable. There are no religious rights, only religious privileges.
So, should fundamental human rights always outweigh religious privileges?