I consider myself to be a proud Black, Christian conservative, but what does that mean in light of what many argue is the “new” human rights movement? In Kari Frederickson’s The Dixicrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South (2000) she notes that since the 1950s, conservatism in the United States has been chiefly associated with the Republican Party. However, during the era of segregation many Southern Democrats were conservatives, and they played a key role in the Conservative Coalition that largely controlled domestic policy in Congress from 1937 to 1963. Priorities within today’s conservative movement include freedom, liberty, individualism, traditionalism, law and order, gun ownership, defense of traditional family values in opposition to abortion, and same-sex marriage. Today’s conservatives are also strong supporters of the Constitution and the separation of powers. Fiscal conservatives and libertarians favor small government, low taxes, limited regulation, and free enterprise. We pride ourselves in saying that we are the party of Lincoln whose skillfully crafted moral argument against slavery forced the country to take a hard look at human rights violations within their borders. Are we still the party of Lincoln? Christian conservatives believe that traditional marriage and the right to life are Biblically based and therefore non-negotiable, but the ardent support for human life is seldom extended to children of illegal immigrants, victims of police brutality, the over-incarceration of Blacks and Latinos or the struggling family in need of welfare assistance.
In The Morality of Freedom (1986), Joseph Raz explores the basic premise of personal well-being as it relates to equal rights. He states, “A person’s well‐being consists in his successful pursuit of valuable, willingly embraced goals. Many of these goals have a nested structure, and presuppose the existence of social forms or collective goods. Self‐interest is a narrower notion than that of personal well‐being. Self‐interest is advanced by fulfilment of a person’s biologically determined needs and desires, including his feelings of satisfaction or contentment that arise from his pursuit of goals, which he was not biologically determined to have. Unlike the division between morality and self‐interest, there is no deep division between morality and personal well‐being”. If conservatives are to be fully aligned with the principles of our movement, we must first embrace the basic premise of the “new” struggle for human rights (personal well-being) in America. In recent history, the United States government and many organizations in the United States have often talked about human rights as if they were only germane to abuses in other countries. Yet, many Americans have always believed that the struggle for human rights is extremely relevant to this country. Fiscal conservatives advocate the avoidance of deficit spending, the reduction of overall government spending and national debt, and ensuring balanced budgets. Then it only makes sense that fiscal conservatives should champion the right to affordable education, housing, access to healthcare, the reintegration of closing of prison complexes and fair wages. When individual households benefit economically, local and state governments benefit economically. Christian conservatives should champion the rights of all immigrant religious groups because Christians advocate the Biblical concept of liberty of conscience, freedom from sin and oppression. As a Constitutional originalist, it is abundantly clear that whatever Constitutional protections Christians enjoy must also be extended to non-Christians.
Historically, American human rights are rooted in revolution. The Founding Fathers were ardent supporters of human rights. A statement issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops condemns modern society’s disregard of these core rights: “We deplore the fact that our nation is at risk of forgetting the promise made to generations yet unborn by our Declaration of Independence: that our nation would respect life as first among the inalienable rights bestowed on us by our Creator”. Although this statement can be interpreted as referring to the rights of the unborn, it can also be applicable to all life as all life is precious and irreplaceable. It is possible that Americans may never know to what extent the Founding Fathers anticipated the Declaration being interpreted by later generations. Perhaps it is time for serious introspection among modern-day conservatives. We must ask ourselves a few post-election questions. Is it possible that conservatives are making a huge miscalculation by refusing to address human rights issues that threaten the very fabric of our existence as a nation? Why has our record on defense of human rights fallen short? Why are conservatives afraid to call out our leadership when they are unwilling to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for human rights, even when it is not politically expedient to do so? What can we do to uphold the spirit of the Constitution and the protections it affords every group post-election and what can Black conservatives do to move the conversation on human rights forward?