Photo credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Will New Trump Admin Commission Reclaim Human Rights Debate?


Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a State Department “Commission on Unalienable Rights.” This commission will reorient American foreign policy on human rights in a constitutional direction, focusing on the “unalienable rights” endowed by our creator and centering around the Bill of Rights. It also will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and reflect the administration’s commitment to the family.

Although many support the measure, others, particularly on the Left, are attempting to steer public discourse against the commission. But why, you may ask, would anyone oppose the protection of unalienable rights worldwide?

The Left has spent decades attempting to claim human rights, often manipulating the UDHR to justify their political positions. It seems that almost daily, “thought pieces” expressing the Left’s redefinition of human rights appear in highly-subscribed periodicals and newspapers. And in 2019, these often take the form of veritable screeds against the Trump administration, eschewing objective analysis of policy in favor of selective, highly-isolated criticisms. One recent example has been the brouhaha over ICE detention facilities, where the Left has completely ignored that the Obama administration did much the same, even sending detainees to former World War II internment camps

It is unsurprising that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which got involved in that same fiasco, strongly opposes the commission. In their official statement, they claim that “references to ‘natural law and natural rights’ are code words used by the religious right and social conservatives” to “discriminate” against a panoply of groups the Left believes are oppressed. 

These statements from prominent left-wing groups themselves explain why Secretary Pompeo was wise to propose the creation of this commission. Progressives will argue that our constitutional rights are not based on laws of nature; they do not believe that our rights are inherent. They certainly don’t believe that our rights come from our creator. Rather, they believe the source of rights is the beneficence of the state, and that rights can be “democratically” re-defined over time. The ACLU’s protest against the Commission effectively demonstrates that mentality. It seems as if the concept of unalienable rights is so foreign to them that the only way for them to make sense out of it is to refer to it as a “term” used for political gain by conservatives.

Yet, the UDHR is an inherently conservative document, and it matches well with American constitutional values and our international agenda. Nowhere, does it state that human rights are secured by the state or invented by the state. Rather, it is built upon the premise that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that they are “endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”  

The declaration doesn’t mention the latest faddish left-wing issues either, like gender transitions and abortion. Instead, it focuses on priorities that many would consider to be opposed to those things. It guarantees protection from prejudice on the basis of sex, eschewing the preferred leftist lingo of gender self-identification. It guarantees a right to life for all persons, making no concessions to concepts like “bodily autonomy” commonly used to justify abortion.

Most importantly, the document asserts that the family is: “the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” It ascribes to the family a special significance, and goes on to state that international affairs should be managed with concern for the welfare of the family at the forefront.

These are fundamentally conservative ideas, and they align with the freedoms acknowledged and protected by our American Constitution. The UDHR is wholly unconcerned with “woke issues.”  Instead, it is clearly oriented toward a Judeo-Christian construction of liberties that works for the entire world. Its focus is not on the individual, with its various flaws and idiosyncrasies, or as the Left would have it, traits that demand constant affirmation. Rather, it centers on the family — the source of order and contentment on which all healthy societies are founded.

This fact, recognized in the creation of the State Department’s new Commission, must surely anger many leftists who have sought to undermine this international human rights consensus over the years. Indeed, the global discourse on human rights and progress has been taking on an increasingly disturbing tone for decades. Leftist identitarianism and economic collectivism is becoming ever more difficult to distinguish in tenor from the racial identitarianism and economic collectivism that has foretold numerous dark episodes in modern history.

In 1948, 48 nations came together to create the declaration and say “never again” to the tragedies and reckless debasement of humanity that their century had seen. This new Commission on Unalienable Rights pushes back against toxic trends which are alien to human nature and rights. Given the current state of the human rights debate, this Commission is very necessary, and long overdue.

Photo credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Leo Thuman

Leo Thuman is a columnist for, primarily focusing on religious liberty issues.

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