“At the heart of a human rights view of society stands the concept of the person, a spiritual being set apart from the rest of creation with a capacity for thought, generosity, friendship and love. ... Without rights, human dignity is vulnerable to attack from both the organized powers of the state and the disorganized chaos into which human relationships deteriorate when the values of personhood no longer command our respect.”
Our Quote of the Week defines the basic characteristics of humans as distinct, spiritual beings capable of love and worthy of having our rights protected from attack. We lift up this fundamental “human rights view of society” in the wake of Independence Day and in a moment in which a series of judicial decisions threaten our right to live in a safe and healthy environment.
In 1974, Sargent Shriver was invited to speak at a conference about human rights at the University of Notre Dame. He gave two powerful lectures, which you can see here and here. Our Quote of the Week comes from the first of these two lectures. In the speech, he weaves together human rights and other crucial concepts: civil rights, justice, and spirituality. He reminds us that civil rights are connected to human rights, and that “we are responsible to one another and that in the end our destiny is linked with each other.” We must therefore always strive to protect each other’s rights, so that we do not leave each other vulnerable to the dangers of living without them: ignorance, desperation, illness, and violence. He emphasizes the fact that respect for human rights must be universal and must be preserved both within our public institutions and in our private lives.
Throughout his career as a public servant, Shriver stressed the importance of justice, dignity, and respect for all human beings. Consequently, he strove to create systems that reflected these priorities. His creation of the Peace Corps, his development of the War on Poverty programs, his work in the area of poverty law, his support of Special Olympics: all of these initiatives are rooted in the recognition that each human being is worthy of dignity and respect.
In the past several weeks, we’ve seen Supreme Court rulings that have the potential to threaten our public safety, our health care, and our environmental protections, among other issues. In short, these decisions have torn at our collective human rights, putting all of us, and particularly our most vulnerable citizens, in physical danger. It will take sustained effort from all of us to reverse this trend of falling into the “disorganized chaos” of which Sargent Shriver spoke. Whether in our homes, our communities, our workplaces, or in the halls of our government, we must set the expectation that we must preserve the safety and human rights of every human being above all else. And we must, each day, be engaged in the battles to retain our collective human rights.