For the last several years, lawmakers and
activists have crossed party lines to pass landmark legislation
defending human rights internationally. They agreed, for example,
on the need to create a US commission to promote religious liberty;
on measures to crack down on sexual trafficking; and on a law
threatening sanctions against North Korea for its arbitrary arrests
and labor camps. Evangelical groups such as the Salvation Army have
actually found common cause with feminist organizations such as the
National Organization for Women.
Earlier this month, liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi joined
conservative Republican Frank Wolf to highlight continuing
human-rights abuses in communist China. Democrat Hilary Clinton
teamed up with Republican Sam Brownback at a conference on human
rights and American foreign policy. Lobbyists from Southern Baptist
Convention have joined with members of the Democratic Black Caucus
to support a peace accord for Sudan. The same players are demanding
US action to stop the bloodletting in Darfur.
Is this a cynical marriage of political convenience? Whatever some
of the motives may be, I think there's something deeper going on,
something that goes to the heart of what it means to be
The most important rights documents of the last 200 years agree
that there exists a set of moral norms, or universal rights, that
are grounded in human nature. They include the right to security,
freedom from slavery, and freedom of religion.
Religious believers view these rights as a gift from God, belonging
to every person who, by nature, bears His image. Sadly, Christian
conservatives have not been known as champions of human rights on
the world stage. The growth of global Christianity, however, has
confronted believers in America with the extent of human suffering.
Probably more than any other issue, the persecution of fellow
Christians in foreign lands has awakened a slumbering church. Many
now say they'd betray their deepest ideals by refusing to join with
others to try to stop it.
Liberal and secular groups, prodded by their own sense of outrage,
have long engaged in human rights advocacy. Yet they reject
absolute claims about human nature, and they don't like God talk to
justify civic and political freedom. Nevertheless, their sense of
moral urgency is helping them to make room for people of
Is this the triumph of conscience over politics? Perhaps. It would
be easy, after all, for liberals and conservatives to simply ignore
one another, to stay the course of mutual mistrust.
But there are few forces as powerful in human experience as the
conviction of conscience. Our likes and dislikes are one thing, but
conscience is something else: It is the moral voice-some would say
the divine witness-that often runs counter to our desires. For
conscience tells us what we ought to do, whether we like it or not.
Right now this inner voice seems to be telling political
adversaries to work together for human rights.
In this season of failed states, prisoner abuse, and religious
violence, let's hope they keep listening.
is a research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation
and editor of "The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront
Hitler's Gathering Storm" (Rowman & Littlefield). He served as
a member of the Congressional Task Force on the United
First aired on NPR's All Things Considered