The issue of human rights has been in the news a lot recently. Particularly for minorities. I suspect my inclusionist views on people having them are already well-known to frequent readers. However, I also make a clear distinction between possession and use: a legal right or liberty is a method not a goal.
Immigrants, prisoners, religions, ethnicities, genders. These groups, and others with equally indistinct edges and qualities, are often held up as needing fewer or greater rights. I have in the past, and probably will again, argued that everyone should receive the same broad package of rights and liberties for being human; and that any change in that treatment must be only on the basis it necessarily stems from a difference relevant to the issue in question. For example: everyone has the right to health care but certain ethnicities are more likely to suffer from specific conditions, so people of that ethnicity might have greater entitlement to screening for the condition if there is a limited resource.
One of the counter-arguments to this granting of rights and liberties to all people is that people will use them. Depending on the perspective of the speaker this might be couched as the need for government to combat terrorism or for normal people to be spared offensive political views, but fundamentally the argument is that if people are not prevented from doing something (or not forced to do something) some of them will choose the alternative the speaker does not wish them to.
Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.
– George Bernard Shaw
Which is not to say the argument is without some weight. There are situations where curtailing someone’s liberty (stopping a child wandering onto a railway line for example) is better than not. But – necessary curtailments aside – it is not the job of law to restrict the exercise of basic rights and liberties.
It is the job of the individual to restrict themselves.
There is a difference between having the right to do something and doing something because you have the right. For example, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, among other things, states that the government cannot pass laws which restrict free assembly. That does not mean holding a political rally in the middle of a free-way because the government are not allowed to stop you assembling is responsible, moral, ethical, or sensible.
Each individual should have the broadest rights and liberties possible, to protect them in all the circumstances we dread to think or have not even conceived. But they should assume also the commensurate duty to treat them as a protection against injustice, not a flag to be waved at every opportunity.
Free speech protects the expression of legitimate opinions; it doesn’t justify abuse.
Free assembly protects the expression of legitimate social action; it doesn’t justify forcing other’s away.
Freedom protects our inner self; it doesn’t justify restricting anyone else’s.