Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists


Part of What We Choose

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations, December 10, 1948

Various national and international agreements assert the existence of and proclaim ethical commitments to particular rights. Some are the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. These agreements have not been crafted easily. Over time, there has been much debate about the nature of "rights," and the difference between "natural rights," with which we are naturally imbued because we are human; and "legal rights," which result from political and/or democratic processes. "Human rights" is yet a third category, comprising norms the international community has agreed to through treaty. Enforcement of agreements about human rights often depends on political and diplomatic processes. Diplomats, academics, and citizenry continue to ask: What is the source of human rights? What authority grants them? Are they inherent to being human, or are they political constructs, or both?

Unitarian Universalists take pride in a legacy of support for human rights, grounded in our first Principle, which affirms "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." This workshop asks: What are human rights? From where does our understanding of human rights come? Do human beings have certain rights which are inherent, and if so what makes them inherent? Can we base ethical decisions on upholding these inherent human rights? Participants reflect on what they consider the source of authority for these rights: secular philosophical ideas, religious and spiritual teachings, the democratic process, international agreements, or another source. Participants explore some challenges and applications of a rights-based morality as they consider instances where rights are in conflict.

Before leading this workshop, review Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the Introduction.


This workshop will:

  • Introduce rights-based ethics
  • Examine the connection between Unitarian Universalist Principles and rights-based ethics
  • Guide participants to consider how a rights-based ethical framework informs or might inform their actions and choices
  • Strengthen connections among participants.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn about rights-based ethics and differentiate between natural rights, legal rights, and human rights
  • Identify situations in which they already engage in this form of ethical decision making
  • Consider the source or authority upon which they base their affirmation and/or support of particular rights
  • Explore situations where rights claims are in conflict and consider how to prioritize conflicting claims.