A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

The Language of Rights

Posted on: October 14, 2014

I’m a little uncomfortable with the way we speak about human rights today.

This weekend, I read in the Ottawa Citizen article “World’s last legal ban on divorce causes misery” about the challenges of ending a marriage in the Philippines. One senator in that nation contends that “divorce is a basic human right.”

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of Canada will begin hearing arguments in the Carter case, which hinges on the question of whether physician-assisted dying is a human right.

And a quick Google search on the phrase “abortion is a human right”—or even “abortion is a basic human right”—turns up many results.

Views on issues such as divorce, euthanasia and abortion vary, both in society in general and among Catholics.

But when I think about rights and freedoms, I think about things such as the right to life, liberty and security of the person; the right to vote; freedom of religion; and freedom of thought and expression—things essential to living in safety and participating in society as equal members, as we read about in s. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

And s. 1935 of the Catechism tells us this about human rights:

The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.

The language of rights must come into play when we want to head to the polls. When we want to move to another province or state to find work to support our family. When we want to choose the place where we worship. When we want to speak up for those here or in other nations who are refused an education based on their gender, denied the freedom of expression or of peaceful assembly, prevented from holding a job based on their ethnicity or religion, subjected to unreasonable searches or torture, detained with no access to counsel, or imprisoned without a fair trial.

I pray that we would use the language of rights carefully and that we would pray and advocate for those whose fundamental human rights are denied.


1 Response to "The Language of Rights"

People like using “rights” or “needs” when they really mean “wants.” But whether something is or is not a human right, whether it is or is not legal, doesn’t really matter because it is God to whom we all must answer, and so it’s His laws that really matter.

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Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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