Renewing 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.

 

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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.”

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

Citation:

John Shattuck. 10/8/2020. “Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-01. See full text.
Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty

Abstract:

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. Transformations have occurred at other pivotal moments in our nation’s history—at its founding during the American Revolution, its Reconstruction after the Civil War, its recovery from the Great Depression, its rise after World War II, and its reimagining during the Civil Rights Movement. Can today become a similar moment of transformation, turning threats into opportunities through the power of civic activism, voting, and government response? Can we reimagine the promise of rights that bind us together as a nation of diverse histories, identities, and lived experiences? 
 
With the release of their nonpartisan, evidence-based report, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights provide a guide for the nation wrestling with its values. This blueprint for protecting and expanding citizens’ rights proposes policy changes to strengthen democratic processes; safeguard equal protection, equal opportunity, and due process of law; and better protect freedoms of speech, media, religion and privacy. The Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Project is directed by John Shattuck, Carr Center Senior Fellow and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The report and the project are overseen by a faculty committee chaired by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse.
 
The report offers an in-depth analysis of the state of rights in America in 2020, and then offers 80 recommendations to address failures to protect these rights. The Reimagining Rights team researched fifteen topics in five broad categories that are fundamental to protecting and expanding citizens’ rights. The Carr Center will continue to publish the fifteen reports in the coming months that expand upon specific rights domains in greater detail, including voting rights, money in politics, civic education, racial equality, women’s rights, and other areas of research. Sign up for our newsletter and follow our social media channels to stay up-to-date as we release each report.
 

Read the Executive Summary.

: John Shattuck | Oct 8 2020
: Researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights provide a guide for the nation wrestling with its values.
Last updated on 10/07/2020

George Floyd and the History of Police Brutality in America

Citation:

Kadijatou Diallo and John Shattuck. 6/1/2020. “George Floyd and the History of Police Brutality in America.” Boston Globe. See full text.
George Floyd and the History of Police Brutality in America

Abstract:

Kadijatou Diallo and John Shattuck discuss the history of racist policing and violence against African Americans in the U.S.

 

The horrific death, captured on video, of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, spotlights the longstanding crisis of racism in policing.

To understand the protests that have erupted across the United States, one needs to understand the deeply troubled history of policing and race. Police brutality, racial discrimination, and violence against minorities are intertwined and rooted throughout US history. Technology has made it possible for the level and extent of the problem finally to be publicly documented. The anger expressed in the wake of Floyd’s killing reflects the searing reality that Black people in the United States continue to be dehumanized and treated unjustly.

 

: John Shattuck et al. | June 1 2020
: Kadijatou Diallo and John Shattuck discuss the history of racist policing and violence against African Americans in the U.S.

Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Citation:

Gerald L. Neuman. 4/30/2020. “Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-007. See full text.
Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Abstract:

The Charter of the Commission on Unalienable Rights includes the objective of proposing “reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” This mission statement has prompted concern among some observers that the Commission is being asked to redirect U.S. human rights policy in ways that would be self-defeating and would create serious damage to international cooperation for the protection of human rights. In his address, Neuman addresses the claim that there are too many human rights; the protection of diverse sexuality; the equal priority of economic/social rights and civil/political rights; the usefulness of “natural law” at the international level; and the question of privileging freedom of religious conduct over other human rights.

Read the full paper here.

Gerald L. Neuman is the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, and the Co-Director of the Human Rights Program at HLS. He teaches human rights, constitutional law, and immigration and nationality law. His current research focuses on international human rights bodies, transnational dimensions of constitutionalism, and rights of foreign nationals. He is the author of Strangers to the Constitution: Immigrants, Borders and Fundamental Law (Princeton 1996), and co-author of the casebook Human Rights (with Louis Henkin et al., Foundation Press).

: Gerald Neuman | Apr 30 2020
: Neuman addresses a myriad of human rights concerns to the Commission on Unalienable Rights.
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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