Bang to rights

Thought for the Day for Lincs FM…

This week has witnessed a lot of talk about ‘right’s: the rights of an individual to maintain tight-lipped secrecy in matters surrounding their private life; the rights of the Press and others to have free access to matters of public interest and, also, the rights of all to freedom of speech and to name and shame if necessary. This is of great interest as, it seems to me, there are only two ways in which human rights can be established. On the one hand, the faith communities hold that human rights have their origin in the will of God for all humanity. The Ten Commandments can be seen as a bill of rights, as God is taken to offer that which helps humanity prosper. On the other hand, human rights are merely a human construct: we agree together that there are certain things which, although having no eternal status, should be basic to human existence. Luckily, these two views as to how human rights come about are often in agreement. So, we can all agree, whether divinely inspired or not, that we have a right not to be murdered or treated with violence and that we have a right to live in appropriate freedom with adequate water and food, and so on…

What is worrying in the current debate about whether an individual should be able to legally restrain information from being made public is that it seems to lower the bar and diminish the importance of human rights. So, the Magna Carta held in Lincoln Cathedral was the first great bill of rights and it provided protection for the ‘little man’ against the power of a despotic king or lord and prevented arbitrary violence against them. Many years after, but in its wake, came the American Bill of Rights: those amendments to the American Constitution which guaranteed rights of freedom of speech; of association one with another; of practising religion in freedom and the right of people to be secure in their home and safe in their family.

When rights were first considered and committed to paper we were painting on a big canvass and great injustices were being addressed.

In the light of this grand vision for human rights and the knowledge that even today people in their thousands are sold into slavery; that countless more suffer and die for want of food or clean water; even more are homeless and without an address; in Africa and elsewhere women’s bodies are abused in the name civil war and, in India, very young children work in hard sweat shops… in the light of these great abuses, and the countless others which daily deny big basic human rights to powerless people, it does seem rather small beer and self-indulgent of us to make such a big thing about the rights of the Press to feed our insatiable desire for gossip and prurience and the rights of an individual to have the details of their peccadilloes exposed to the public glare. In lowering the bar in this way, I wonder whether we do an injustice to the real human rights abuses happening out there?

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~ by Tim Ellis on May 26, 2011.

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