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

Practice What You Preach: Global Human Rights Leadership Begins at Home

Citation:

John Shattuck and Kathryn Sikkink. 4/20/2021. “Practice What You Preach: Global Human Rights Leadership Begins at Home .” Foreign Affairs, May/ June 4/20/2021. Read the article.
Practice What You Preach: Global Human Rights Leadership Begins at Home

Abstract:

The international standing of the United States has taken a serious hit over the past four years. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s strident “America first” foreign policy is partly to blame, but so are his attacks on democracy and human rights, both internationally and domestically. Abroad, Trump set the cause of human rights back by embracing authoritarians and alienating democratic allies. At home, he launched an assault on the electoral process, encouraged a failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and systematically undermined civil rights protections, leaving his successor to grapple with multiple, overlapping human rights crises. As if that were not enough, a host of other problems await, from the pandemic to increasing competition with China and the overall decline of American power.

Read the full article. 

: John Shattuck and Kathryn Sikkink | Apr 20 2021
: The international standing of the United States has taken a serious hit over the past four years.

Privacy, Personal Data, and Surveillance

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/26/2021. “Privacy, Personal Data, and Surveillance.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 016. See full text.
Privacy, Personal Data, and Surveillance

Abstract:

Privacy has always been one of the most precarious rights of American life because it lacks clear protections in the U.S. Constitution. The right to privacy is under attack in this moment in our history like no other previous moment. Privacy defenders are attempting to fight a two-front war, as increasing incursions are made by private industry and government law enforcement.

Read the paper. 

See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Series.

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 26 2021
: Privacy has always been one of the most precarious rights of American life because it lacks clear protections in the U.S. Constitution.
Last updated on 02/26/2021

Hate Crimes

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/22/2021. “Hate Crimes.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 015. See full text.
Hate Crimes

Abstract:

The Department of Justice began prosecuting federal hate crimes cases after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Thus, the literature on hate crime is new, though rapidly growing. The first American use of the term “hate crime” emerged during the Civil Rights Movement in the second half of the 20th century.  The term typically refers to bias-motivated violence. But the variation in hate crimes laws and data collection policies per state has created disparities in protection against hate crimes, which leaves people vulnerable depending on where they live. Without proper hate crime statutes and data collection, it is difficult to know the true nature and magnitude of the problem of hate crimes in the United States. In order to allocate resources and deter future hate crimes, law enforcement agencies need to understand the problem at hand. 

Read the paper. 

See all issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Series. 

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 22 2021
: Without proper hate crime statutes and data collection, it is difficult to know the true nature and magnitude of the problem of hate crimes in the United States.

Religious Freedom

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/19/2021. “Religious Freedom.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 014. Read full text.
Religious Freedom

Abstract:

The complicated relationship of religion and government predates the founding of the United States. The Founders grappled with this dilemma for years before compromising on the final language of the First Amendment. Even then, the issue was far from settled: the US has struggled since its founding to reconcile the right of religious freedom with the reality of governing a pluralist democracy with an increasingly diverse population. 


Today, a struggle over the scope of religious freedom is taking place in politics, the courts, and across American society. Claims of religious freedom are increasingly receiving preferential treatment in both political discourse and in the courts when religious beliefs come into conflict with other rights. That is particularly true for women’s reproductive rights and the rights of individuals to non-discrimination on the basis of their sexual identity. 


At the same time, a controversy has emerged over the meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, in which recent Supreme Court cases have pitted the prohibition on establishment of religion against the right of religious free exercise. The central question over religious rights today is how to strike an appropriate balance between rights when they come into conflict. This question has troubled the American Republic since its formation.
 

Read the full paper. 

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 19 2021
: Today, a struggle over the scope of religious freedom is taking place in politics, the courts, and across American society.

Freedom of Speech and Media

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/15/2021. “Freedom of Speech and Media.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 013. See full text.
Freedom of Speech and Media

Abstract:

The First Amendment guarantees some of the most fundamental rights provided to Americans under the Constitution. The right to free expression is a foundational tenet of American values. In fact, it was the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the press that provided much of the basis for the revolution that led to America’s founding. The First Amendment provides broad protection from government censure of speech, although limitations on some forms of published or broadcast speech, such as obscenity and hate speech, have been allowed. 

As the traditional public square governed and protected by federal regulation moves online to spaces governed by private corporations, the rules for how speech is both expressed and censored are also changing. How should legal protections for speech adapt to these new tech-powered, private forums? This chapter will explore the current landscape of free speech and the associated information landscape as well as the threats that they face. 

Read the full paper. 

See other issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series. 

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 15 2021
: When the right to speech without regard for accuracy or quality is protected by law, many wonder where the responsibility to protect truth lies.
Last updated on 04/01/2021

Gun Rights and Public Safety

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/12/2021. “Gun Rights and Public Safety.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 12. See full text.
Gun Rights and Public Safety

Abstract:

In March 2018, hundreds of thousands of young people walked out of school and marched on their local statehouses and on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to advocate for stricter controls on gun sales and ownership. The March for Our Lives was initially organized by students at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a school shooting had killed 17 students. Collectively, the marches were the largest-ever protest against gun violence, and one of the largest protests of any kind in American history.

 

The growing consensus over the need for some “common-sense” gun laws to regulate the sale and ownership of firearms stands in sharp contrast to the incendiary rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, which has sounded the alarm in recent years that Democrats are coming to “take away” guns or institute a national registry of firearm ownership. Indeed, the reasonableness on both sides of the debate implies that there is a middle-ground that can be achieved to limit gun violence in the United States, while still allowing for responsible ownership of firearms for hunting, sport shooting, and personal protection. 

Read the article. 

See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series. 

 

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 12 2021
: There is a middle-ground that can be achieved to limit gun violence in the United States, while still allowing for responsible ownership of firearms for hunting, sport shooting, and personal protection. 
Last updated on 02/15/2021
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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