U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo caused a stir last week when he announced the creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights at the State Department. The purpose of the commission is to review contemporary claims to human rights as it relates to U.S. foreign policy and “ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles.”
This is an enterprise of a great moment that is of immediate interest to me as a patriot, but also as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The creation of this commission should be a welcome development to all Americans. I also welcome the appointment of Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law School professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, to chair the commission. Ms. Glendon is an intellectual giant who lends instant credibility to the advisory work of the commission.
Predictably, strident voices from the Democrats immediately denounced the commission and tried to undermine its effectiveness before its work even began. They claimed ridiculous accusations that Mr. Pompeo’s real motive was to limit the rights of certain minority groups.
Does U.S. policy properly reflect our longstanding commitment to human rights, the meaning of which is grounded in the founding documents like the Declaration of Independence as well as the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights adopted in 1948? The question is long overdue. We should be supportive of the commission’s efforts to answer it.
Too often the term “human rights” has been hijacked by individuals or groups to gain and keep power. As noted by Mr. Pompeo, it has even allowed countries like Cuba and Iran to pretend to be avatars of freedom. We have seen it played out many times, most notably by socialist regimes around the world who declare the purity of their actions in the name of the people while systematically stripping away their freedom.
It is also a growing trend in America. Here, too, the radical left has been working tirelessly to redefine what human rights are, just as they have sought to redefine other commonly understood terms.
It is past time to call them out. Our fundamental rights are associated with liberty, not authority, and are gifts from God, not the government. The right to do is the freedom to do. It is the freedom to go as far as an individual’s dreams, talents and determination will take them. It is not, as socialists would have it, government ensuring the same results for everybody.
Too often the right to access goods and services is confused with a perceived right to have those things at somebody else’s expense. The lure of free stuff is always tantalizing, hence the lessons that every generation must learn, sometimes painfully. Nothing is free. Government pays for nothing; the American taxpayer pays for it.
Mr. Pompeo, in a recent op-ed, observed, “Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.”
What the American left discovered years ago, and socialist tyrants around the world routinely practice, is simply declare something a right and government will have an obligation to guarantee it. This was recently illustrated by Randi Weingarten, the president of a teachers union that is suing the Department of Education over claims of mismanagement of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
With comical absurdity, Miss Weingarten declared that forgiveness of student loans for public workers “is a right.” Sorry, but no. It’s a government program with a number of stipulations that have to be met, including 120 monthly payments that first have to be made by the graduate. Rights have nothing to do with it.
The secretary of State’s desire to examine what human rights really are and tie the meaning to fundamental documents that illustrate historic understandings is both desirous and legitimate. He understands that if everything becomes a right, then nothing will be a right because the term itself will be meaningless.
One hopes this examination will illuminate an honest discussion about rights here at home as much as it will internationally. The need is urgent. The work of the Commission on Unalienable Rights cannot begin quickly enough.
• Ron Wright is a Republican U.S. representative from Texas.