A public event on March 1, 2012, hosted by Georgetown University’s Berkely Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs launched the monograph Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right, authored by Timothy Shah under the auspices of the Witherspoon Institute’s Task Force on International Religious Freedom. At this event, Princeton political science Professor Robert George quoted extensively from Martin Luther King’s Letters from the Birmingham Jail to illustrate why religious freedom deserves legal protection. In the Birmingham letters, Reverend King argued persuasively that human laws can be judged unjust when they degrade basic human goods. Racial segregation, King argued, debases human dignity because it designates one group (Whites) as superior to another group (African-Americans); thus such laws are unjust.
Too often, we think that asserting “I want something” equals “I have a right to something.” But just as African-Americans had the right to civil equality because it upholds their human dignity, George explained that human rights exists only when if those rights leads to a human good. To illustrate, there is no human right to take an innocent human life because being dead is bad. The human good is to be alive, so our laws protect human life. To talk of human rights thus requires explaining the good those rights protects. [Read more…]