Tucked into a story about a bill to let Oregon voters decide whether health care is a right was a stupendously ill-informed assertion by a Republican legislator that rights are god-given:
The vote was a victory for Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the chairman of the House Health Care Committee who has trying for three years to help the uninsured.
During debate, Greenlick described how he would have lost his battle with lymphoma, now in remission, if he had not had health insurance. That so many suffer for lack of health care is unjust, he said.
"Rights are the products of wrongs; they come from human experience, particularly experience with injustice," he said.
But Rep. Scott Bruun, R-West Linn, said rights are God-given and "cannot be added to or detracted from by the whimsy of man." A long list of worthwhile ideals could be called rights, he said.
"Let's acknowledge health care is important," he said, "but it is not a right."
Rep. Bruun, thanks for showing why religion has no place in politics. This is one of my favorite subjects, which I blog about regularly over on my Church of the Churchless (here's an example).
How the heck is it possible to say that rights are god-given? For one thing, which god? Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist?
Every religion has its own conception of right and wrong. And of god.
If Rep. Bruun were Hindu, he might well be arguing that not killing animals for food is obviously a fundamental extra-human right, so vegetarianism should be favored by the body politic.
Further, even if we choose one religion over all the others (leaving aside the unconstitutionality of such an action), decisions have to made about which tenets of that faith should be accepted or rejected.
The Bible condones slavery and genocide, among other affronts to human dignity from our more enlightened 21st century perspective. How do we pick and choose among the many injunctions in the Old and New Testaments, many of them certifiably whacko?
So Rep. Greenlick is correct. Rights come from humans, not god. If Oregonians want health care to be a right, like education, voting to make it so is our right also.
Here's a nice discussion of god-given vs. human-given rights. As it says:
Myth: Rights are natural, inalienable, God-given and self-evident.
Fact: Rights are social constructs.