Reimagining Rights & Responsibilities

What are the rights and responsibilities that define the relationship of people to the government, and to each other?

In contrast to nations rooted in the blood ties of their people, the United States is built on a belief that the relationship of citizens to their government and to each other should be defined by rights and responsibilities. In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln expressed a vision of the United States as “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all [people] are created equal.”  Lincoln understood the promise and the challenge of human rights in the U.S.  

Human Rights, to Lincoln, promised to bind together a nation of diverse racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and political identities. Intolerance and injustice would challenge this promise. Meeting this challenge has required the constant renewal of rights to confront the legacy of slavery, the racism of the post-reconstruction era, the injustice of the Great Depression and the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century.  Today we again face the challenge.   

What are the rights and responsibilities that define the relationship of people to the government and to each other? The system of rights expressed by the U.S. Constitution, and later by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is facing severe threats today. The principle of free and fair elections is being subverted.  Racial, gender and religious discrimination, extremism and violence are being stimulated, condoned or ignored. Public discourse essential to democracy is being manipulated and degraded by new forms of digital communication, surveillance and personal data collection. Americans across the political spectrum are aware that their rights are under severe attack. This consensus creates a rare opportunity to reach people with different and competing conceptions of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and to build support for reform and renewal of the entire system.

 

Explore the Project

Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty

Americans today know they face threats to their rights, their democracy, their health and their economy. These threats are interrelated and demand a transformative response.

image of charts and graphs

National survey finds bipartisan support for expansive view of rights

At a time of deep partisan and demographic divides related to the 2020 election, 71% of Americans agree that they “have more in common with each other than many people think.”

Select Publications

Disability Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 1/21/2021. “Disability Rights.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 008. See full text.
Disability Rights

Abstract:

Nearly 61 million Americans have a disability, making the group the country’s largest minority. Individuals with disabilities cut across race, gender, and sexual orientation. Since people with disabilities are disproportionately older, they have also made up an expanding share of the general population as the U.S. population has aged. Unlike other more fixed identities, any person can become disabled at any time, due to severe injury, illness, trauma, pregnancy, or simply aging. In fact, while only 11% of people under ages 18 to 64 reported having a disability in 2017, 35% of people ages 65 and over reported having one, illustrating the fluid nature of disability status.

Disabilities include a range of conditions, both visible and invisible, and including physical, mental, and cognitive impairments—all of which require different types of protection against different types of discrimination. These complexities make understanding and advancing disability rights more challenging. Moreover, people with disabilities continue to face challenges as a result of policies that affect them both directly and indirectly. Renewing rights for people with disabilities requires both reinstating and extending equal protections, and affirmatively expanding accommodations to better allow them to participate meaningfully in all aspects of society. 

Read the full paper. 

See other issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities project here

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Jan 21 2021
: Renewing rights for people with disabilities requires reinstating and extending equal protections to affirmatively expanding accommodations to better allow them to participate meaningfully in all aspects of society. 
Last updated on 01/21/2021

LGBTQ Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck, Mathias Risse, and Timothy Patrick McCarthy. 1/6/2021. “LGBTQ Rights.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 007. See full text.
LGBTQ Rights

Abstract:

"Queer" people have always been here—since antiquity, they’ve lived across communities and intersections of every class, color, creed, condition, and country. Though not always marked as “deviant” or designated “illegal,” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people have also more often than not been victims of personal prejudice, social and cultural stigma, and legal and political discrimination. This has certainly been the case in the modern era, the same time that “human rights” has gained currency and frequency as a rallying cry for various struggles and peoples seeking freedom, equality, and justice. That’s is not a coincidence: as the formal infrastructure of human rights and state-sanctioned homophobia expanded simultaneously in the middle of the 20th century, so, too, did the modern movement for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States first emerge. This “paradox of progress”—the persistent battle between progress and prejudice—is a key characteristic of the history of social justice movements, including those for queer liberation and rights.

Read the full paper.

See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here

: John Shattuck et al. | Jan 6 2021
: After centuries of discrimination and abuse dating back to Colonial America, the birth of LGBTQ activism in the 20th century secured fundamental rights and freedoms for LGBTQ people.
Last updated on 01/19/2021

Women's Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 1/4/2020. “Women's Rights.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 006. See full text.
Women's Rights

Abstract:

 

“I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”

- Shirley Chisholm

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm made history as the first African American woman to seek a nomination from a major political party as a candidate for President of the United States. Prior to her campaign, Chisholm served in the House of Representatives for seven terms, co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, served on the House Rules Committee, and introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation. Despite those accomplishments, her presidential campaign was marked by discrimination, as she was barred from participating in primary debates, and was allowed to make a single televised speech only after she took legal action. While Chisholm’s presidential campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, she nevertheless opened up many doors for women in politics, and in equal rights more broadly. Since then, women have been appointed to the Supreme Court, led major House and Senate committees, and served as Secretary of State.

This issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series analyzes the current state of women’s rights in the U.S., and proposes policy recommendations designed to advance them.

The paper examines how identity influences women’s experiences and provides historical context on women’s rights; assesses the current state of women’s rights in the areas of employment, education, poverty, domestic violence, health, and civil society; and offers policy recommendations that are designed to advance women’s rights moving forward.

 

 Read the full paper. 

Discover other issues in the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Jan 4 2021
: Assessing the current state of women’s rights in the United States, and offering policy recommendations designed to advance them.
Last updated on 01/19/2021

Racial Discrimination

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 12/8/2020. “Racial Discrimination.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-005. See full text.
Racial Discrimination

Abstract:

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, his action honored a decades-long struggle by grassroots activists and dedicated political leaders to ensure national protection for racial equality. With the landmark agreement, Johnson fulfilled his promise, expressed in his first State of the Union speech earlier in the year, that “this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined”.  The historic legislation sought to eliminate racial discrimination on the federal level in broad categories including employment, education, voting, and public accommodations. The Civil Rights Act paved the way for other major federal laws outlawing discrimination in more targeted areas, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. 

Over half a century later, the promises of the Civil Rights Act are threatened by sustained efforts to undermine its protections for equal rights and opportunities across racial identities.

This issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series surveys the historical evolution and current status of racial discrimination within the U.S. in several key areas: criminal justice, housing, education, labor, and society at large. Next, it looks at the current status of discrimination within these five categories, including recent legislative and political efforts to weaken equal protection along racial lines. The authors provide recommendations to reinforce the government’s responsibility to uphold anti-discriminatory protections and restore individuals’ rights to equal access and protection. 

Read the paper here.

Check out other issues in our Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Series. 

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Dec 8 2020
: Surveying the historical evolution of racial discrimination in the U.S., and reinforcing the government’s responsibility to uphold anti-discriminatory protections.
Last updated on 12/08/2020

Civic Education

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/30/2020. “Civic Education.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-004. See full text.
Civic Education

Abstract:

A well-informed citizenry is essential in a democracy to preserve American values and make sound decisions in every area, from the school board meeting to the voting booth. Yet, arguably, in no other way have Americans fallen so short from what the Framers intended than in their understanding of and participation in democratic governance. A 2019 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that only 39 percent of respondents could name all three branches of government, and 22 percent could not name any. Voting rates average only 56 percent in presidential elections, and are as low as 40 percent in mid-terms, ranking the U.S. far below most other democracies in voting participation. In short, the American people are not well-informed about their own government, do not turn out to vote in high numbers, and do not engage significantly in politics and civics.

In addition to providing a set of policy recommendations, this issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series outlines historical origins of civic education, the status of state and federal requirement, the dearth of federal funding, and the current political tensions within civic education. 

Read the full paper here.  

See all the issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series here

: John Shattuck, Mathias Risse | Nov 30 2020
: A well-informed citizenry is essential in a democracy to preserve American values and make sound decisions in every area, from the school board meeting to the voting booth.
Last updated on 11/30/2020

Money in Politics

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/18/2020. “Money in Politics.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-003. See full text.
Money in Politics

Abstract:

As Yogi Berra once said, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” Nothing could be truer when it comes to money in American politics. In the 2000 election, candidates and outside groups spent a combined $3 billion on the presidential and congressional races. Not two decades later, in 2016, the amount spent more than doubled to a combined $6.5 billion. For 2020, forecasters project that the total amount spent on political advertising alone will reach $10 billion.

There’s a simple reason for this exponential rise in political expenditures: the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment to preclude the regulation of many aspects of campaign finance. That decision in 1976 first opened the floodgates of contributions to political campaigns.

 

"Nowhere is money felt more than in the explosion of spending by outside groups to elect and influence candidates in the past decade, which have simultaneously increased amounts while decreasing accountability."

 

In this issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the U.S. paper series, the authors outline how the bipartisan use of money in politics undermines the democratic process. 

Read the full report.  

See all the issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series here

: John Shattuck, Mathias Risse | Nov 18 2020
: The bipartisan use of money in politics  undermines the democratic process. 
Last updated on 11/30/2020
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News and Announcements

Op Ed

Americans have more in common than you might think

September 16, 2020

In his latest op-ed for the Boston Globe, John Shattuck describes findings from his team's national survey, noting that Americans have a more expansive view of their rights and freedoms. 

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In contrast to nations rooted in the blood ties of their people, the U.S. is rooted in the belief that the relationship of citizens to their government and to each other is defined by a system of rights that expresses the core values of American democracy.

- John Shattuck