Human Rights may be understood as confined solely to humans. Not only do humans rights only pertain to human beings, but conversely, only humans can violate these rights. Borrowing from the realist paradigm, we may also postulate that, as is the case with other limited resources, human rights are not unlimited, but an item of scarcity. Not everyone may do whatever he or she likes because often one’s actions involve others. For example, a person’s freedom to condemn homosexuality infringes to whatever extent on homosexuals.
The distribution of freedom or rights historically stems from various sources: the alpha male, nobility, religious authority, and finally the authority of the state. Despite such manifestations, these authorities have one thing in common—power. Rights distinguish the permissible from the impermissible. Unless power reinforces this distinction, it is nothing more then opinion. Force—whether it be imagined or instrumented—coerces action. In this vein societies have been lead to sanction various religions over one another, arbitrarily restrict personal freedoms, and even persecute and enslave other peoples.
Our founding fathers envisioned a nation that would provide the maximum freedom possible for everyone without infringing on the freedom of others. In my opinion, it is not the role of the government to enforce laws that are solely grounded on morality, for morality itself should be grounded in something more tangible and manifest. It is wrong to commit murder because murder is immoral. It is illegal to commit murder because murder infringes on the victim’s freedom to live. It is wrong (according to some) to be homosexual because homosexuality is immoral. Fine, don’t be gay. Homosexuality should not be illegal based on opinion.
In my hometown we are about to vote on whether or not to ban smoking cigarettes in restaurants. Smoking is unhealthy and, while sections are specifically designated smoking and non, it infringes (so the argument goes) on one’s right to not receive second hand smoke. But come, those for the ban clearly do not smoke cigarettes. As it is, citizens in my town have the freedom in certain dining establishments to enjoy a cig, only if they so choose, but no one is forcing them, nor is anyone forcing them to dine at such locals. Why must the people who have already freely chosen not to partake in cigarettes take it upon themselves to regulate the freedom of others? Yet this is often the case when it comes to human rights. When is the decision one of mere preference, and when is it one of rightness and wrong? Smoking may be harmful to the individual, but I say one’s health is one’s own business. Humans, in my opinion, would be much better off if they were left to determine for themselves (after a certain degree of education) how they prefer to live. Of course this is idealistic. But maybe if we allowed people to blow off their limbs or what have you, they (or at least others) might actually learn from experience. It is my hope that someday people may govern themselves righteously through their own use of reason to the extent that imposed laws are no longer necessary. I know this is a long shot, but who knows what a unified and well educated nation is capable of.