Human Rights

One of the arguments swirling round the Dale Farm issue is that the travellers threatened with eviction from their site are having their human rights undermined – the human right to live as they wish; to travel if they want and stay if they want; to have land provided for them as a travellers’ site.

It made me think about human rights, the law and faith.  We might argue that everyone has a ‘human right’ to live to the fullness of their capacity, with food, shelter, freedom, education, a job, and so on.  But the state can only do so much.  It has to protect competing ‘rights’ through law.  The unemployed can protest about the government not creating an economic climate which would provide them with a job, but not about it breaching their human rights thereby.

And what about faith and human rights?  The vocation of a Christian is to become fully human, but it’s not about human rights.  Christ did not promise food, shelter or security – or freedom and equality for that matter – to his disciples.  They were more likely to lose their lives than preserve them.  The thrust of the gospel is that you do everything you can to protect and promote others’ security and wellbeing, whilst being unconcerned about your own.

And yet that sounds wrong, somehow.

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5 Responses to Human Rights

  1. Hmm, I think that human rights are connected with human vocation but in a different way.

    So much of genesis of the move towards recognising universal human rights came from Christians and for them, was it not based on recognising that every soul bore the imago dei – the image of God. Not a particularly gospel idea but something that is certainly fundamentally biblical.

  2. Pausingplace says:

    One of the arguments against enshrining positive human rights in our domestic legal system was that the uk ‘constitution’ effectively created a space where the individual human was free to exist insofar as that was not deemed harmful (and therefore legislated against), with the result, in a system based on the Rule
    Of Law, that fundamental human freedoms went further (and hence one could argue implied greater protection of expression of imago dei) than is now the case under Human Rights legislation.

    In the Dale Farm situation, the interference with public regulatory considerations (ie looking after the wider environment by regulating planning permission) seems to me a legitimate limitation on the freedom of an individual to enjoy their property in the way they choose… Perhaps that’s consistent with biblical values of good stewardship.

    At least that’s what I think as I write this. Open to persuasion.

  3. alisonpeden says:

    Yes, ‘made in the image of God’ – but I guess my point was that Jesus, as the human incarnation of God, showing us what it is to be the true image of God, claimed only the freedom to give himself and his life away for love of the Father. It’s how to relate this to ‘fundamental human freedoms’ which we might argue for in order for people to flourish as those created in the image of God.

  4. Pausingplace says:


    If I start with the recognition that God created humans with freedom, then I see freedom (or free will at least) as fundamental to humanity. It is instrumental not only in our fallen nature but also, through Christ’s free giving of Himself, to our redemption. Free giving, however, seems different from freedom to claim rights for onesself.

    Perhaps, as you describe them, we would do better to describe human rights as “freedoms” ?

    In enshrining these freedoms in law, perhaps we signify, in a way, an expectation of the presence of the Kingdom (both in the present and as future hope), in our lives and an expectation of one another to give of ourselves to safeguard it?

  5. alisonpeden says:

    That sounds good – though I think I’m getting lost in the jurisprudence …

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