Standing before the 76th Session of the General Assembly on September 21, 2021, President Joe Biden called on the nations of the world to apply and strengthen the “universal principles” regarding “human dignity and human rights” as enshrined in the founding documents of the United Nations.
Will we affirm and uphold the human dignity and human rights under which nations in common cause–more than seven decades ago–formed this institution?
Will we apply and strengthen the core tenets of… the international system, including the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…? Or will we allow those universal principles to be trampled and twisted in the pursuit of naked political power?
In my view, how we answer these questions in this moment—whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not—will reverberate for generations yet to come.
Later in the speech he returned emphatically to the Universal Declaration and the foundational role of the rights it addresses.
[T]he United States will champion the democratic values that go to the very heart of who we are as a nation and a people: freedom, equality, opportunity, and a belief in the universal rights of all people.
It’s stamped into our DNA as a nation. And critically, it’s stamped into the DNA of this institution—the United Nations. We sometimes forget.
I quote the opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “The equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”
The founding ethos of the United Nations places the rights of individuals at the center of our system, and that clarity and vision must not be ignored or misinterpreted.
The President also made an impassioned plea for his listeners to adopt the vision and values of the founding of the UN and to reaffirm humanity’s essential unity.
My fellow leaders, this is a moment where we must prove ourselves the equals of those who have come before us, who with vision and values and determined faith in our collective future built our United Nations, broke the cycle of war and destruction, and laid the foundations for more than seven decades of relative peace and growing global prosperity.
Now we must again come together to affirm the inherent humanity that unites us is much greater than any outward divisions or disagreements.
Oh President Biden, if only your reality would match your rhetoric!
If only you really would adopt the vision and values of the wise drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose entire structure of human rights is built squarely on recognition of the only group unit mentioned as having rights: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State” (Article 16).
If only you would adhere to that same truth as articulated in the Vatican’s Charter of the Rights of the Family: “the family is based on marriage, that intimate union of life in complementarity between a man and a woman,” and, as “a natural society, [the family] exists prior to the State or any other community, and possesses inherent rights which are inalienable.”
If only you would listen to the leader of your professed faith, Pope Francis, who has similarly declared that “complementarity between man and woman… lies at the foundation of marriage and the family” and creates the optimum environment “for the child’s growth and emotional development,” resulting in “a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for people, families, communities and societies.”
If only you would hold fast to the truth expressed in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration, that “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,” and to what the UN declared with one voice just over a decade later: “Mankind owes to the child the best it has to give,” and wherever possible,” every child should “grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his [or her] parents” in order to receive the “special safeguards and care” to which all children are entitled, given with “love and understanding” so they can “develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.”
And if only you would remember the Universal Declaration’s opening statement in Article 1 that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and remember what Mother Teresa similarly wrote to the Supreme Court: “I have no new teaching for America. I seek only to recall you to faithfulness to what you once taught the world. Your nation was founded on the proposition—very old as a moral precept, but startling and innovative as a political insight—that human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.”
President Biden, you admitted that “sometimes we forget” the values of freedom, equality, opportunity, and a belief in the universal rights of all people—values which, as you correctly say, are stamped into the DNA of America and the United Nations.
With respect, Mr. President, we urge you to remember what the Declaration of Independence teaches about the Creator-endowed right of each human being to life and liberty, and to remember what Mother Teresa taught concerning what happens when the life of the most vulnerable among us is taken by abortion: “America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation…. A nation, people, family that allows that, that accepts that, they are the poorest of the poor.”
We urge you to remember what the Universal Declaration teaches about the foundational and indispensable role of the natural family, a truth also expressed by Pope Francis: “Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself…. The future of humanity passes through the family. So protect your families! See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always.”
And we urge you to remember your own warning that the “the founding ethos of the United Nations” must not be ignored, misinterpreted, or “trampled and twisted in the pursuit of naked political power,” and that we must all rise up and “prove ourselves the equals” of the UN’s founding generation. We ask that you do precisely that, and we remind you, in your own words, that our action now “will reverberate for generations yet to come.”