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in Australian courts" (Amnesty International, March 27).
We hear a lot today about human rights. But what exactly are human rights? Who has them? Who should get them? And who gives them?
I began asking these questions after reading a Wall Street Journal article detailing China's relentless attacks against Falun Gong, a self-designed spiritual movement led by Mr. Li Hongzhi, who lives in New York. But China's attacks on human rights are much broader, as arrests and imprisonment of thousands of unregistered Christian house-church members and pastors have demonstrated over the last several years. Yet many other people in China seem to go about their daily business without being arrested and imprisoned. What qualifies one for human rights in China?
In the West, of course, we have a more clear understanding of human rights. Or do we? Was the U.S. State of Georgia -- when it seized 41 children from their parents' homes -- upholding or tearing down human rights? What human rights do parents have to discipline their children in accordance with religious beliefs? What human rights do their children have with respect to physical discipline administered by parents? Which is the state upholding? Can the state of Georgia decide who has human rights -- and who doesn't? Who put the state in charge of deciding? And if they are in charge, how are their decisions any different than those made in the state of China?
What about those imprisoned -- whether in China or Georgia? Clearly they have fewer human rights than those of us not imprisoned. Who decides which rights they have -- and don't have? And what about you and me -- when someone attacks our religious beliefs, our sexuality, our ancestry, our physical person? What rights do we have -- to defend ourselves -- or to retaliate?
It's all relative?
Human rights, it would appear, depend quite a lot on circumstances: whether you are imprisoned or free, living in China or the West, a member of a particular group, a woman or a man (in Muslim countries), or whether you are over or under a certain age. All these qualifications -- the hoops we must jump through -- seem to be set by other human beings: prison guards, child protective service caseworkers, legislatures or government ministers.
Thus it would appear that to hang onto my human rights -- I'd better try to stay in the good graces of those dispensing such rights. Because if I don't -- by publishing a critical article in China, or spanking my children in Georgia -- my human rights will be taken away. Thus I can have my human rights, provided that I don't exercise them (which is a reasonable definition of living in a totalitarian state).
The Western view of human rights
The people who founded the United States of America understood human rights in somewhat different terms -- which is why you may be feeling a bit uncomfortable with the reality that I've just described.
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Human society in the West evolved believing these truths. They were reflected in its laws and government. But America's founders also knew one other thing: that human beings craved power over each other. In other words, it is our natural predisposition to displace God from his throne in our lives, our culture, and our nation -- given half a chance. Thus
they crafted a government unlike any other in the history of the world. It was a representative democracy, with three separate but co-equal branches, and power divided among the branches in such a way that each could check and balance the effects of the other two. They then limited this government's role in individual lives to matters of bare necessity.
In so doing, they created a land where you and I could have the maximum possible individual freedom and human rights -- because we had the minimum possible government.
To date there have been two direct attacks in America by the enemies of this arrangement between freedom and government: the direct election of U.S. Senators and the income tax; both amendments to the Constitution were ratified in 1913. The 16th Amendment gave the federal government the ability to control and redistribute personal wealth (property), something denied it by the original Constitution. The 17th Amendment significantly reduced the powers of state legislatures, to which the original Constitution had given the power of selecting U.S. Senators. This amendment nearly destroyed any voice the states had in the policies developed by the federal government (and the protection small states had against large, populous states).
A third attack by the enemies of human rights is less obvious. But it will, if left unchecked, be fatal to human rights in America, and indeed the entire West.
By removing the biblical concept of God from the minds of men and women, humanity's enemies seek to dissolve the foundations upon which all human rights rest: their charter by God, as opposed to their transitory allowance by men. When that happens, you will see no difference between the human rights we enjoy in America, and the human rights granted to outlawed Christian house churches and Falun Gong followers by the government in China.