‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’United States Declaration of Independence
Why should we support human rights?
Rights relating to religion and belief
Within their campaigning work, humanist organisations focus to a large extent on freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression. Both are necessary simply in order for humanists to manifest their beliefs in the first place. Human rights give a status in society to humanism as a ‘religion or belief’. Humanists believe everyone should have the right to hold and manifest whichever religious or non-religious beliefs they want, so long as they do no harm to others, and that should include the right to change one’s beliefs.A particularly contentious area where this is important is the freedom of religion or belief for children, and as a result humanists place particular emphasis on children’s rights. Humanists believe children should be given enough information to be able to determine their own beliefs, and this is reflected in many international human rights instruments, particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, other instruments, such as the European Court of Human Rights, give parents the right to determine the nature of their children’s religious upbringing, at least until children are old enough to decide their own beliefs, so there is a tension between competing rights here.There are other occasions when different rights are seen to come into conflict. When this is the case, the law seeks to balance competing rights by assessing who is experiencing the most harm. This often leads to a perception that the rights of LGBT people, for instance, trump those of religious people, in that, for example, religious couples are not allowed to refuse bed and breakfast services to a same-sex couple that requests it. But, in fact, the issues involved cut both ways: a same-sex couple running a B&B would similarly not be able to refuse any religious customers. Humanist groups support this approach.Question: Do human rights improve society?‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.’Human Rights Act 1998, Article 9
Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig
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