I know the Fortnight for Freedom is getting a lot of coverage in Catholic circles right now, and deservedly so, but I want to take a minute and respond to some of the comments made in the wake of theÂ column I wrote for CV on Fatherâ€™s Day. I donâ€™t plan on making this a regularÂ occurrence, but given the heft of some of the arguments concerning absentee dads, fatherless homes and the larger issue of childrenâ€™s rights, I want to provide a cogent defense of why IÂ believeÂ children have a right to a mother and a father. That being said, I think aÂ good place to start is to understand what rights really are.
Rights at their most basic level are claims against others. They are claims that impose duties on other people. To live in a society, man must enter into relationships with other men. This results in, among other things, a complex web of competing rights claims. Some rights take precedent over others but eventually new rights come into existence, resulting in a debate over which rights we should value most.
In recent decades the United States has witnessed an emerging trend that I believe fails to understand what rights weÂ are legitimately entitled to and where they actually come from.
Jay Richards, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, offers a solution to this problem. According to Richards, the co-author of the best-selling book â€śIndivisible,â€ť humansÂ possesÂ rights that the state may not alter. These are rightsÂ that emanate fromÂ pre-political realities. Pre-politicalÂ realitiesÂ like marriage and the family, Richards argues, possess intrinsic rights, not only because they precede the state, but because they comprise our human nature.
Children, therefore â€“ an essential aspect of the family â€“ also have rights. But what are they? According to the United NationsÂ Convention on the Rights of Children,Â children, among other things, deserve opportunities and facilities that will enable them to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner. And as recent studies confirm, children develop best when raised by their biological, married mother and father.
Though children may not be fully matured individuals, they are not subhuman (even though some ethicistsÂ claim they are). They are persons endowed by their Creator whoÂ play an integral roleÂ in a natural human institution the state comes into existence to protect: the family. Even if you look at the issue of childrenâ€™s rights from a purely pragmatic perspective youâ€™ll realize that if we allow children to live in a worldÂ where they have no rights at all, or tolerate a culture that views them asÂ nothing more thanÂ chattelÂ propertyÂ (thinkÂ Nadya Suleman), then we are not only ignoringÂ theirÂ unalienableÂ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but we are abdicating our responsibility to provide intergenerational justice by setting them, and society, up for failure later on.
Stephen Kokx is an adjunct professor of political science and featured columnist at RenewAmerica.com. Follow him on twitter @StephenKokx