Maintaining Civil and Human Rights

“Civil and human rights will not be established or maintained in this land, or in our world, unless we can establish an ethical and moral understanding of man, his nature, and his destiny clear and strong enough to sustain a universal, not only a domestic effort, for justice. Nothing less can succeed.”
Sargent Shriver |South Bend, IN| March 21, 1974

Our Quote of the Week asks us to protect and preserve civil and human rights by developing an ethical and moral understanding of humanity. It is only when we truly respect and appreciate the vulnerabilities and needs of human beings–for dignity, for justice, for peace–that we can work to uphold our most basic rights.

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 that were captured on video; you can watch them here and here. Our Quote of the Week comes from the first of these two lectures. In his remarks, 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.

One notable tidbit in the video version of the lecture is that at the 9:55 mark, Judge Constance Baker Motley, a trailblazer in the legal field and a fierce defender of civil rights, has the task of introducing Sargent Shriver to the audience. Judge Motley’s description of Sargent Shriver’s career and accomplishments eloquently both captures his “exceptional” record and acknowledges the challenges he faced throughout his career.

Many of today’s headlines remind us of the urgency of Sargent Shriver’s call to “an ethical and moral understanding of man”. The protests of women in Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for her “unsuitable attire”; the protests and exodus of Russian citizens over the decision to expand the war in Ukraine; the heartless and duplicitous displacement of asylum seekers by US governors De Santis and Abbott; the work stoppage of incarcerated people in Alabama over inhumane conditions in prisons; these are just a few examples of the ways in which a disregard human beings’ needs causes unrest, upheaval and conflict. We must work together at all levels, in the halls of government and in our communities, to create a culture in which our civil and human rights are valued and preserved. We can only do that if we understand and respect our basic human needs for dignity, justice, and peace.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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