Program Director William Saunders Addresses Human Rights in China with Chen Guangcheng

By William Saunders, J.D.

On October 9, the program in human rights held its second annual human rights lecture/discussion, “Thirty Years after Tiananmen Square – Human Rights in China Today.” Last year, the series was inaugurated in a conversation with Princeton professor and former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert P. George, who also serves on the Advisory Board of the MA in human rights.  This year the speaker was Chen Guangcheng, a Distinguished Fellow at CUA.

Program director, William Saunders, began the event by referring to three anniversaries occurring this year – the four month anniversary of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in China, and the thirtieth anniversary of the suppression of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  He noted that human rights in China was regularly in the news – only a few days earlier a public furor had erupted due to a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team in favor of the Hong Kong protests; the Chinese government replied that “Freedom of speech does not include the right to criticize the government,” and threatened to ban the NBA from China.

Noting that those under thirty-seven years of age might be unfamiliar with the events of Tiananmen Square, Saunders discussed those protests and the suppression of them by the Communist Party and the army.  He noted that we can get a good idea of what had happened in China afterwards by looking at the life of Guangcheng.

Guangcheng, who was born in 1971 in a poor village and who became blind in infancy because of inadequate rural medical care, became an advocate for the disabled and for the rural poor, becoming in the process the most famous of China’s “barefoot lawyers.” After several years in illegal detention, he was confined to his home, which was closely guarded.  Yet, he managed to escape to the U.S. embassy, and then on to the U.S.

Since coming to the U.S., he has been a tireless advocate for democracy in China, finding effective ways around the electronic wall China created to keep such information from reaching its people.  His lecture on human rights in China was followed by a question-and-answer session with Saunders. Then the event was opened to audience questions.

You can view the entire event here.

Anything that threatens Communism is a target, Chinese human rights advocate says

By JD Flynn

A Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner has called for renewed focus on the country’s practices of mass detention, religious oppression, and reports of organ harvesting.

Speaking at an event Wednesday, Chen Guangcheng told listeners at the Catholic University of America that there is no doubt about the Communist regime’s determination to hold onto power by any means necessary.

“Human rights have declined and today are very bad,” Chen said of the current situation in China. The ruling Chinese Communist Party is “afraid of losing power,” he said, and so “anything that threatens its power will be a target for violence.”

Read more here.

Originally published at Catholic News Agency.

The event was hosted by the MA in Human Rights program at The Catholic University, lead by director William Saunders, J.D.. Learn more about the program here.

New graduate program in Human Rights delves into Catholic thought and perspective on human rights

By Elizabeth Bachmann

WASHINGTON (CNS) – This fall, five graduate students will embark on a unique, one-year journey back to the origins of thought on human nature.

They will study natural law and natural rights, anthropology, international law, religious liberty, global politics and papal encyclicals, emerging from the program with a fully formed, Catholic understanding of human rights and a zeal to defend and explain these rights.

The Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America is offering this master of arts degree in human rights for the first time in the fall of 2019. The program, headed and organized by William Saunders, lawyer and longtime human rights scholar and activist, is interdisciplinary, drawing classes from five of Catholic University’s schools.

Read more here.

Originally published on 23 August 2019 at Mississippi Catholic

Professor Robert George Addresses Human Rights in Conversation with Program Director William Saunders

More than 80 students, faculty, and members of the local community gathered for a discussion of human rights and religious liberty with Robert George, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at The Catholic University of America’s Heritage Hall.

The discussion, which was hosted by the Institute for Human Ecology, was held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The lecture also marked the opening of a new Center for the Study of Human Rights at Catholic University, along with an interdisciplinary degree, a Master of Arts in Human Rights.

Throughout the hour-long conversation, George answered questions from William Saunders, an IHE fellow who serves as director of the master’s program and the Center for the study of Human Rights in the School of Arts and Sciences.

George, who is a member of the Center’s advisory council, began the conversation by discussing the positive influence the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has had on the world since it was issued on Dec. 10, 1948, as a response to the horrific violence seen during the two World Wars.

He called the declaration “an extraordinary achievement” that brought together people from many different faiths and backgrounds to “make a profound statement of the dignity of the human person … and an affirmation of the rights that human beings have, not in virtue of any special strengths — beauty, intelligence, social standing — but simply in virtue of their humanity.”

Though he noted that the document is “not self-executing,” George said that it “gives civil society an instrument in the name of which to demand of repressive governments and offending regimes respect for the dignity of the human person and his rights.”

Continuing the conversation, Saunders and George discussed how the declaration — in Saunders’ words — is “not a perfect document.” Among the dangers of the declaration, the two professors noted, is how easily its language can be used to promote specific ideologies.

“Whenever the rhetoric of a good thing becomes the dominant rhetoric, then people are going to seize upon that rhetoric to advance whatever agenda, whatever ideology they have,” said George. “People will try to win at ideological battles, advance their agendas whatever they are, with the language of human rights. So they’ll inflate claims, whatever they desire, and treat it not as a desire, a want, a feeling, a passion, but a human right.

“We lose our sense of the power and importance of the fundamental rights because of the inflation that happens when you conflate whatever it is you desire, whatever is on your agenda, with rights,” George said.

Saunders and George also spoke about the many responsibilities that go along with human rights, and the differences between positive and negative rights, and how the idea of religious freedom ties in with the declaration of human rights.

At the beginning of the night’s event, George spoke highly of Catholic University’s new Center for the Study of Human Rights, which seeks to bring the Catholic perspective to bear on the discussion and understanding of human rights. The master’s program, which is accepting students now, will begin officially in Fall 2019.

“I think this institution will really bring something new to the table,” George said. “That is an understanding of human rights rooted in the deep tradition of thought that takes us back to Athens and to Jerusalem, an approach to human rights that really anchors human rights in the truth about the human person and the flourishing of the human person. … We need that kind of deep understanding.”

In his introductory statements, Moral Theology Professor Joseph Capizzi, executive director of the Institute for Human Ecology, spoke about the new center and master’s program. He said the program is unique because it “draws on the interdisciplinary strength of this University and also the Catholic intellectual tradition.” Aaron Dominguez, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, also gave introductory remarks welcoming the establishment of the Center and of the master of arts degree.

For more information about the new master’s program in human rights, please contact William Saunders, Program Director at saunderswl@cua.edu.

This article was originally published by The Catholic University of America on October 1, 2018. Watch the video from the event here.

Photos by Deirdre McQuade/DMcQuade Studios.

Heroines of Ordinary Times

by Lucia A. Silecchia

Since March began, Women’s History Month has highlighted famous women and their places in our collective history. However, the private histories of our families hold countless ordinary women who lived extraordinary, but hidden, lives of faith, hope and love. Women’s History Month is much impoverished if we let it pass without honoring the ordinary women in our own families.

I am blessed to have such women in my own family tree. History does not know them, but through family stories I do. Two beautiful biographies come to mind:

My great grandmother was born in southern Italy’s bucolic hills. When I visit her homeland, it seems like paradise. But, rural life was difficult in nineteenth century paradise. So, she watched her husband leave Italy’s shores to see if the United States held more promise for their growing family. Determining it would, he sent word back to her. I am told that she endured a long transatlantic voyage with toddler boys before arriving in New York the same winter as the notorious Blizzard of ’88. I often wonder what went through the heart of this young woman from the tropical Mediterranean, as a blizzard engulfed her new hometown. She never again saw the family or country she left behind. She delivered twelve children into the world, but only six of them survived infancy. Her husband died in the winter of 1902, leaving her the single mother of six in a country whose language and customs were still new to her.

Yet, her home became a much-loved gathering place and her life a bridge between the old world and the new. She lived to see her children’s children thrive. She was the matriarch of her large family through World War One and the Great Depression, passing from this life in the midst of World War Two. She lived a courageous life lost to history but filled with faith, hope, and love – the same faith, hope and love of so many women who, through the ages, have held the world together.

Her youngest child was another remarkable woman and my maternal grandmother. Born in New York in 1902, she never knew the father who died right after her birth. American women could not yet vote and their opportunities were limited. Yet, my grandmother graduated high school, leaving behind notebooks that reveal a meticulous student with handwriting and mathematical skills that I envy. Serious photographs of her during high school Shakespearean plays show a surprising dramatic flair. She worked at a department store to help support her family and married a dashing Italian mechanic with a pompadour and a motorcycle. She welcomed two daughters just as the country plummeted into the Great Depression that devastated her family. Her meticulous budgets for those years survive, tabulating all her family’s income and the minutest of their expenditures. Long before Airbnb, my grandmother took guests into her home during the 1939 World’s Fair to help pay her mortgage and feed her family. She guided my mother through college, graduate school, marriage, and motherhood – making sure her younger daughter’s dreams knew no limits.

But her greatest legacy was her love for her older daughter – a beautiful firstborn with bright eyes, dark curls, and a crushing brain injury during her birth. My grandmother devoted herself wholeheartedly to this daughter’s care, knowing that love often demands giving away one’s life for another. She sewed her beautiful dresses and gave her Christmas presents. Family photographs always show my grandmother next to this beloved daughter, feeding her patiently from the same good china as everyone else. With the exception of one road trip, my grandmother likely never again traveled more than fifty miles from her home; love for her daughter was her world. “Mama” was the only word I ever heard my aunt say. This was the heartfelt, more-than-eloquent tribute to my grandmother, another unknown woman who lived her life with faith, hope and love – the same faith, hope and love of so many women who, through the ages, have held the world together.

These brief portraits capture only two of the good, holy women whose lives are intertwined with mine. I pray that women such as these have also blessed yours. Their lives, like those of so many women, will go unknown and uncelebrated this month – if we let that happen. But, maybe we owe them more. It is women such as these who are the heroines of ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple.

Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) Endorses MA in Human Rights Program

THE FATHER-SON PROJECT, UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND A NEW RESOURCE AT CUA

by Dr. Pat Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Initiative

In my estimation the strategic project of the next century (100 years) is the movement of fathers taking unto themselves alone, the sexual formation of their sons, resulting in sons capable of being great husbands and fathers. However, I predict that those interested in a totalitarian state (the socialist state) as well as radical-core feminists (and there is a significant overlap) will oppose this movement with merciless pursuit, for, if it spreads, it takes away from them their most powerful tool — “sex gone wild”.

In the forthcoming square-off fathers, who do have the inherent right to direct the education of their children, we will need the back-stop of law. Luckily this right is recognized in the United Nations Human Rights Treaties and Declarations of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The world’s reflection on what had gone wrong during and leading up to World War I and World War II led to the founding of the United Nations and with its hope that such horrors would not happen again, and to that end issued the Human Rights documents.

But with rampant individualism coupled with ignorance of the nature of good government, “Human Rights” discourse, today, is a double-edged sword even among — especially among — educated Westerners, most of whom cannot articulate the nature of human rights and as a result are increasing easy prey for “false rights.”

Read more here.

For more information about the new master’s program in human rights, please contact William Saunders, Program Director at saunderswl@cua.edu.

This article was originally published in Faith and Family Findings on February 23, 2019.

U.N. declaration on human rights must extend to unborn, says speaker

This article was originally published by Catholic News Service on September 24, 2018.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 in the wake of the atrocities of World War II, is the foundation of religious liberty worldwide and also covers the rights of nonbelievers.

A leading scholar suggested in a Sept. 20 talk that although the landmark document doesn’t mention this, its demand for respect for human dignity should even extend to the unborn.

Read more here.