Friday, July 10, 2009

Rights are never granted, my dear mayor

It is very easy for those of us who work in a ministry that works on a global scale to neglect local issues.  While local news is often what interests most people here in Canada, I have to admit that I often find it rather small and boring.  This evening, however, as I was reading the local newspaper, I noted a small article announcing that the Mississauga city council had decided to end a 30-year tradition of having a public question period during televised council meetings.  The reason for this action, reportedly, was largely due to the persistent, often abrasive questioning of a single citizen named Donald Barber.  City council had apparently had enough of Mr Barber and decided to end a practice that had long been trumpeted by our mayor as evidence that city council truly cared about hearing the concerns of Mississauga’s citizen.

This week, however, Mr Barber seems to have exercised his right to freedom of expression too much for the mayor -- so much so, that at one point she is reported to have told him to “be careful…you misuse the freedom that we’ve granted and the leniency that we’ve granted.”

Hold on!  As someone who defends religious liberty worldwide, where freedom of expression is often the first right to be suppressed, words like this light up my radar.  “Freedom that we’ve granted….” 

Mayor_McCallion_2008Mayor Hazel McCallion is a great woman and I hope that she simply misspoke.  But we all need to be reminded that freedom of expression is not a right that is granted or given to any human institute or leader.  It is a basic human right, recognized by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  No one and no government can grant this right. 

Not understanding this is at the root of the suppression of minorities, especially religious minorities, in many societies. Repressive governments often claim that they give their minorities the right to worship as they wish (as Egypt’s government claims, for example).  But the problem with this reasoning is that if a right is seen as given or granted, it can also be taken away or restricted when seen to be inconvenient.

Personally, I care very little whether Mississauga city council has a question period or not.  Nor is this specific incident particularly earth shattering in its ramifications. It does, however, provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the nature of our God-given human rights at whatever level we experience them.  And we also need to remind governments, at whatever level, as I have done this evening with my own city’s dear mayor, that rights are not gifts bestowed by them upon the worthy and cooperative.


Anonymous said...

While recognizing "rights" is a wonderful thing, I can't recall any scripture that clearly spells out that we have certain inalienable rights. I agree that it's great, but the whole issue of "rights" quite frankly baffles me. As a believer, and under the authority of the Holy Spirit, I'm commanded to unequivocally surrender every thought, action and word to the Spirit's control. I am also commanded to defend the helpless (hence my passion for the work of VOMC). As a Canadian, knowing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms declares that right, I will stand for it, believing it to be ideal. I'm just a little fuzzy on "God-given human rights" and where basic Christian doctrine melds with public/secular policy. Are these things rights or blessings? If rights, are we "owed" these rights, who should ensure them, and why? What scriptures are the foundation of your belief in God-given human rights to the extent that we enjoy them (or believe we should)?

Glenn Penner said...

I would recommend that you read my blog, "Why I believe in human rights" which you will find in the Featured Posts section on the left side of this website. We also have a small book available online that should answer your questions "Human Rights - A Christian Primer" You can actually download a free copy from

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the booklet yet, but after reading the blog, "Why I Believe in Human Rights", I am thinking. I haven't decided whether I entirely agree with everything you say, but a couple things have come into clearer focus as I compare your comments with the Bible:
1. The term, "rights" is used several times in Scripture. Rights, as defined biblically do exist.
2. It would appear that commands related to rights are consistently in relation to others' rights.

I do not believe that because a hero of faith acted in a particular way that it becomes the basis for our own actions. (I haven't lately handed out hankies; not an issue for this discussion.) The narrative of Paul's life states what he did; am I to defend my own rights in the same way? I find this insufficient information on which to base a doctrine of human relationships. Please don't understand this to say that I believe that those who speak up for themselves are in the wrong. I'm simply saying that I'm looking for clear scriptural directives if there are any. I do wonder how often the growth of the violation of rights would be stunted if the Body of Christ were to speak up more.

Definitions and parameters of the terms in this topic are a point of discussion. I'll read the booklet, read some more scripture, pray about it and see where my head ends up. Mind you, whatever opionion any of us land on, it remains that our opinions essentially mean nothing; only truth matters. I trust that, after this study, my opinion is based on eternal truth. Thank you for your input.

Glenn Penner said...

Of course, my article is not based simply on Paul's example. If that were the basis of on which to base a doctrine of human relationships, you might have a point. However, I do not base my beliefs on that. I am curious as to why you have not considered those issues as well or why you seem to think that this is the basis for my views here. The real basis is the biblical concept are the ramifications of being created int he image of God.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Penner, I apologize for the miscommunication. I recognize that the article is not based on Paul's example. Paul's example does, however, appear to be one supportive argument in the issue of defending one's own rights.