Rights don't trump God, says Pope Benedict

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 18, 2008

{mosimage}NEW YORK - In his first address to the United Nations, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a staunch defence of religious freedom in the face of secular pressure to privatize faith.

“It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one's rights,” he said in his April 18 speech to the UN General Assembly.

Nor should religious citizens be forced to suppress their faith in order to be active citizens, he argued. Religious liberty is not just the right to worship, but also to base one's active participation in society on religious teachings.

The Pope grounded his argument for religious freedom in a more general understanding of rights that are founded on an understanding of the human person as being created in the image of God.

The speech, delivered half in French and half in English, offered a densely reasoned appreciation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

The invitation to speak at the UN was the reason for Pope Benedict's first visit to the United States, which began April 15 in Washington. After several events there, the Pope moved to New York where over the weekend he will celebrate Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and Yankee Stadium, and meet with ecumenical leaders, youth and Jewish leaders.

The Universal Declaration, the Pope argued, arose from an understanding of the origins of the human person based on “the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.”

As such, it allows people of all races, religions and philosophies to agree on fundamental rights that should be enjoyed by all persons everywhere, he said.

Surrounded in the General Assembly by diplomats from member countries of the United Nations covering every region of the globe, Pope Benedict warned against defining human rights divorced from any transcendental dimension of reality.

“Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks.”

The Pope was speaking at a time when there are growing clashes between different “rights”. In Canada and many countries, religious rights have come under attack as traditional religious opposition to such things as homosexual sexual acts has landed Christians in court and before quasi-judicial human rights tribunals for merely expressing their most deeply held beliefs.

In Canada, for instance, Catholic Insight magazine is defending itself before the Canadian Human Rights Commission against accusations that it is fomenting hatred against homosexuality. And Maclean's magazine has been forced to defend itself for publishing excerpts from Mark Steyn's book America Alone, in which he argues that the growth of the Muslim population in Europe is to the detriment of Western culture.

The Pope went on to argue that a proper understanding of human rights leads to wiser decisions made by states for the common good. If human rights lose their mooring from the transcendent, he argued, they can be distorted by either a secular culture that has no understanding of objective truth, or states where a single religion dominates and suppresses all others.

Pope Benedict citied the example of rich First World countries that exploit international law and politics to the detriment of poorer countries. “I am thinking especially of those countries in Africa and other parts of the world which remain on the margins of authentic integral development and are therefore a risk of experiencing only the negative effects of globalization,” he said.

He also said that science, if not grounded in a proper ethics, can pursue developments that could be “a clear violation of the order of creation.”

In his speech, the Pope also praised the United Nations as a “sign of unity between states and an instrument of service to the entire human family.”

He went further, though, arguing that the international community needs to work harder to implement the principle of the “responsibility to protect.” This principle, a strong point in the foreign policy of former Liberal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, insists that if a state is not protecting the safety and well-being of its own citizens in the face of conflict or natural disaster, then it is the duty of the international community to intervene.

“The action of the international community and its institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty.”

The full text to his U.N speech can be found here

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