A Bahá'íVision of Human Rights
Toward A Bahá'í Conception of Human Well-being
Southern Flame Bahá'í Summer School
Fruitland Park, FL
July 3, 2013
J. Terry Edwards, PhD
What Are Human Rights?
By far the best known statement of human rights is the 1947 Universal
Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. The preamble begins,
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable
rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of
freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous
acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a
world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and
freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of
the common people…
The world has witness the truth of these words in the decades since 1947.
Universal Declaration of the UN
The preamble concludes,
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL
DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of
achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual
and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall
strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and
freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure
their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the
peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories
under their jurisdiction.
United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
7/24/12); emphasis in original.
Universal Human Rights (1)
All people are entitled to the enumerated rights “without distinction
of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or
other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Slavery is prohibited.
No one shall be subjected to “torture or to cruel, inhuman or
Everyone has a right to the protection of law.
Universal Human Right (2)
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his
privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon
his honour and reputation.”
Everyone is entitled to freedom of movement including the
right to emigrate.
Everyone has the right to a nationality.
Everyone has the right to marry and have a family.
Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Universal Human Rights (3)
Everyone has the right to own property.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and
association.” As well as the right to not be forced to join a group
Everyone has the right to take part in their government.
Universal Human Rights (4)
“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and
is entitled to realization … of the economic, social and cultural rights
indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his
Everyone has the right to work.
Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living for “the
health and well-being of himself and of his family … “
Mothers and children are entitled to “special care and assistance.”
Everyone has the right to education.
Purpose & Source of Human Rights
During the discussions leading up to the adoption of the UN
Declaration, the Baha’i International Community (BIC)
presented A Baha’i Declaration of Human Obligations and
Rights to the first session of the United Nations Commission on
Human Rights. That statement begins,
The source of human rights is the endowment of
qualities, virtues and powers which God has bestowed upon
mankind without discrimination of sex, race, creed or nation. To
fulfill the possibilities of this divine endowment is the purpose of
Bahá'í Human Rights and Responsibilities
In presenting an integrated understanding of human rights, the
Bahá’í International Community offered a spiritually based
conception of rights and responsibilities.
The Bahá’í Faith considers human rights to be an essential
element of justice because they contribute to an individual’s
ability to put herself on a path of spiritual attainment and to be
of service to humanity.
In contrast to the UN’s Universal Declaration the Bahá'í vision of
human rights includes personal responsibility.
What Are Bahá'í Human Rights?
Humans are spiritual.
The family is the fundamental social institution.
Community rights are superior to racial rights.
Work is fundamental to individuals and to society
Universal education is necessary.
Freedom of worship or conscious is fundamental.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá told us, “The essence of faith is fewness of words
and abundance of deeds.”
Enabling such service calls for a special kind of personal spiritual
well-being, one that gives everyone the capacity to be a
functioning member of society and the capacity to develop and
use their capabilities in the service of God and humanity.
The promotion of this spiritual well-being is the purpose of
universal human rights.
Where Do Human Rights Come From?
Human rights come about, “when members of the community realize
that the gift of life and conscious being obligates them to meet the
responsibilities owed to God, to society and to self.”
Universal human rights and responsibilities result from an acceptance
of rights for ourselves and our obligation for the provision of rights to
all others as well as our duty to God. In other words, rights are part
and parcel of God’s covenant with humanity.
Bahá’í International Community, A Baha’i Declaration of Human
Obligations and Rights (Presented to the first session of the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights, Lake
Success, NY, USA, February, 1947).
The BIC Speaks Out
Since its initial statement in 1947, the BIC has spoken out on all
of the human rights issues that have come before the UN
including: eliminating religious intolerance, women’s rights, the
protection of minorities, the obstacles to progress in the
provision of human rights, the rights of children, the elimination
of racism, the rights of indigenous peoples, the human rights of
the disabled, the right to development, creating violence free
families, the promotion of universal education, overcoming
corruption and the lack of integrity in public institutions.
Why Are Rights Important?
According to the BIC, “A right attains social status only after it
has become a moral value asserted and maintained as a
necessary quality of human relationships by the members of
Bahá’í International Community, A Bahá'í Declaration of Human
Obligations and Rights (Lake Success, NY: Presented to the first
session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights,
February, 1947; BIC Document #47-0200).
What Are the Properties of Rights?
A right is an entitlement given or provided by someone to someone
Many, but not all rights are inherent in our understanding of what it
means to be human.
Rights are life-goods. In other words, what is morally good in life
partially determines what we have rights to.
The goods implicit in human rights are superior to other
goods, i.e., they are trumps.
Finally, a right establishes what it is to be wronged.
Who Is Responsible for Rights?
Article 28 of the Universal Declaration states, “Everyone is
entitled to a social and international order in which the rights
and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”
This right gives personal entitlement to an international order
that supports these rights.
This statement implies that the responsibility for enforcing or
providing universal right lies with the nation-state.
Who Is Responsible?
In this globalized world the assumption of the UN Declaration is
that its member states are the responsible parties is too
parochial a point-of-view. In fact responsibility for rights goes
well beyond the nation.
For example, corporations that sell goods in the US and Europe
have a responsibility to workers wherever the manufacturing
takes place for the wages and working conditions of its
Many NGOs have come into being to implement various rights.
What DoesThis Add UpTo?
Let’s have a discussion of what a Bahá'í theistic conception of
what human well-being is.
1. What is a Bahá'í conception of human well-being?
2. Given a Bahá'í understanding of human well-being, does the BIC
statement of 1947 need to be updated?