Human Rights for Whom?

Iris Kaufman

In the Wall Street Journal’s July 8, 2019, announcement of his new Commission on Unalienable Rights, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “America’s Founders defined unalienable rights as including ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ They designed the Constitution to protect individual dignity and freedom. A moral foreign policy should be grounded in this conception of human rights.”

Pompeo is exactly right. “America’s Founders designed the Constitution to protect individual dignity and freedom.” That is why there is no mention of God in the Constitution. Our founders were determined to bring about a secular country because they well understood the dangers of mixing politics with religion.

However, Secretary Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, recently announced an expansion of Trump Administration anti-abortion policies, saying the United States would stop funding foreign organizations that support other groups that perform abortions. In November 2019, Pompeo told a reporter for the New York Times Magazine that the Bible “informs everything I do.”

The woman he appointed chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. diplomat to the Holy See. According to an article in The Guardian on July 8, 2019, in the previous year the University of Notre Dame awarded Glendon a prestigious prize among anti-abortion activists and praised her for having “consistently battled destructive forces against women, [and] children—born and unborn.”

As I looked up several other panel members, I found prominent religion-based, anti-choice activism in their backgrounds. The panel includes a Jew, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, and a Muslim, Hamsa Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College, both anti-abortion activists. Other members are Paolo Carozza, a law professor at Notre Dame who “has served the Holy See in various capacities and was appointed by Pope Francis in 2016 to be a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.” (The quote is from the university’s page on Carozza.) At the University of South Carolina, Christopher Tollefsen is a professor of philosophy. He and his wife, Laurie MacLean, earned their PhDs in philosophy at Emory University. Her dissertation was on the nature of the contraceptive act. While at Emory, they had their first child, Emma; they were expecting their ninth as of July 2019. My information about the Tollefsens is from the website The Way of the Lord Jesus (http://www.twotlj.org/CTollefsen.html). Among Tollefsen’s publications, it lists his book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, coauthored with Robert P. George (New York: Doubleday, 2008).

As a secular humanist, I hope that the U.N. Human Rights Council will adhere to the reasoning of Elizabeth O’Casey, expressed at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Thirtieth Session in October 2015. She highlighted to the Council why secular democracy is essential in the protection and promotion of human rights. O’Casey stated that a secular democracy is essential because it is necessary for guaranteeing inclusivity and ensuring four principles underscoring human rights: freedom, equality, dignity, and universalism.

Today, the prime target of the religious Right is clear in the makeup of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. It is to force all girls and women to carry every pregnancy, planned or unplanned, if need be against their wills. Religious activists are doing their best to persuade us that every conception reflects God’s will. Politically, they are pushing our government to pass laws that enforce doctrines of male-dominated religions. I have no doubt that this new human-rights Commission’s primary goal is to work toward eliminating the right of women to control their own bodies. The panel will strive to “ensoul” an embryonic fetus, declare it a person, and give it human rights.

If they succeed, it will mean eliminating the unalienable human rights of girls and women.

Iris Kaufman

Iris Kaufman is an artist whose work has been shown in the Corcoran Gallery, D.C., and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Six of her critically acclaimed works were shown at the Washington Women’s Art Center show “Women as Myth and Archetype.” She designed several, and sold thousands of, message bearing cards for the Montgomery County, MD National Organization for Women where she was on their Board of Directors. Kaufman also designed the t-shirt worn at a protest against a Miss Teenage America Contest in Montgomery County.


In the Wall Street Journal’s July 8, 2019, announcement of his new Commission on Unalienable Rights, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “America’s Founders defined unalienable rights as including ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ They designed the Constitution to protect individual dignity and freedom. A moral foreign policy should be grounded in …

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