In July 2019, the United States State Department created a Commission on Unalienable Rights at the direction of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The express purpose for the new commission is to “provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” The commission has been controversial amidst recent academic debates over the validity and foundations of human rights, as well as political debates over reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights. These last categories of rights especially have been said to be threatened by a conservative natural law framing. Further questions have been raised over the prioritization of some rights—particularly religious freedom—over other rights. What does it mean to ground human rights in understandings of natural law and natural rights? What do legal and religious traditions of “natural law,” tell us about the nature of rights and their inalienability? Is natural law necessarily traditional and static, or are there resources for reinterpretation and development within the natural law tradition that can give rise to new understandings of rights or categories of rights? These are some of the questions with which the authors of this inaugural Canopy Forum monthly thematic series grapple.

— M. Christian Green

“A Natural Law Basis for Human Rights?”

Hans-Martien ten Napel
January 6th, 2020

“Attempts by the United States State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights to identify a subset of proper “unalienable rights” within the broader category of human rights are sometimes perceived as an almost reactionary effort…”  

“The Many Voices of Human Rights”

Linda Hogan
January 8th, 2020

“The Commission on Unalienable Rights has already generated significant criticism, much of it from human rights advocates concerned that its conceptualisation is flawed and its composition limited.  Its stated purpose…”

“Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Nonhuman Environment”

Dana Lloyd
January 13th, 2020

“The Trump Administration’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, recently convened by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has gotten me thinking about human rights and how useful the rights discourse is to us in America today…” 

“A Natural Law for Queer and Racial Justice”

Craig Ford
January 21st, 2020

“In this brief essay, I propose that the natural law and social justice traditions can together form a powerful partnership that champions anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic causes. This is especially the case for those of us for whom Christian theological convictions shape our ethical worldview…”

“Islam and Women’s Rights: Postcolonial Challenges”

Shannon Dunn
January 29th, 2020

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s formation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights has generated controversy among human rights advocates, in part because of the possibility that the committee will limit the rights of women and other groups.  Such questions are particularly acute in the case of Muslims concerned with both human rights and religious norms…”