By M.A. Student Megan Witt
On Wednesday, February 22, the Masters in Human Rights students were lucky to have Professor Robert George join their capstone course virtually as a guest lecturer. Professor George has a very impressive background in the field of human rights. He currently teaches at Princeton University as the sixth McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, while also directing the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. In the past, he has served as a Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a presidential appointee on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as well as the President’s Council on Bioethics. He also served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology. He has been the recipient of countless awards for his invaluable work including the U.S. Presidential Citizen Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, and the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to name a few. Additionally, Professor George is an advisor to the Master’s program and plays an active role in the program.
During the meeting, the students discussed Professor George’s article Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity. The article discusses natural law’s relationship to human rights. It asserts that there is a sensible and accurate understanding of human rights, rooted in natural law and given to us by God. It sees human rights as principles of morality and justice and must be integral to human flourishing. During the discussion, the students had the opportunity to ask Professor George questions and to engage him in conversation. A point was made that people have taken the language of rights and applied it to a strongly individualistic ideology. Professor George reminded us that human well-being and fulfillment include careful consideration of what is intrinsically valuable, as well as social connections and community, and the guidance of moral beings to be virtuous. The moral principles that exist to make us virtuous say what it means to act toward human flourishing and fulfillment. Among these moral principles is justice, articulable in the language of rights. Professor George asserted that true rights can be removed from the language of rights and still be articulated as rights. In order to do this, one can focus on the duty of the beneficiary of the right. In other words, the person that holds a right has a duty to something which gives him or her that right. Each right that we have has a corresponding duty that we must uphold.
The Master’s students are looking forward to having another discussion with Professor George this semester, and are honored to have the opportunity to learn from such an honorable and respected advocate of Human Rights.