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

Activity 2: What Are Rights?

Part of What We Choose

Activity time: 35 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Print and prepare to present Leader Resource 1, Natural Rights, Legal Rights, and Human Rights.
  • Copy Handout 1, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights for all participants. Prepare to call participants' attention to a few key rights or to note any you found surprising.
  • Write on newsprint, and set aside:
    • If natural rights exist, what makes them "natural"? Is there something about being human that gives us inalienable or inherent rights? What is the source of these rights (community values, God, scripture, moral conscience, common sense, or something else)? How "weighty" is the source you have identified?
    • Are legal rights less significant than natural rights if they can be overturned by legitimate democratic processes?
    • Is there a hierarchy of rights, with some categories of rights more important than others? Might establishing such a hierarchy help to make rights-based ethical decisions when rights are in conflict?

Description of Activity

Explain that this activity introduces definitions and background concerning rights-based ethics. Invite participants to brainstorm a list of "rights" they have at one time or another considered when making daily decisions.


  • Has concern about rights affected your daily life, for example, decisions about purchases, finances, employment, voting, or volunteering?
  • Which rights have you acted to support? (Examples might include the right to free speech, the right to reproductive choice/"right to life," the right to vote, the right to food and shelter, the right to fair wages, etc.)

Solicit responses and record on newsprint only the rights, not the supporting actions. Move the brainstorm along, allowing no more than five minutes for collecting and recording ideas. The goal is to create a working list, not an exhaustive one.

When you have a working list, invite participants to not commonalities and differences among the rights they have named. Introduce the concepts of natural rights, legal rights, and human rights, referring to Leader Resource 1. Return to the brainstorm list and invite participants to categorize each right named in the brainstorm: natural, legal, or human. For each right, ask: "Is this an inherent right (natural right)? Is it a right because of the laws of our country (legal right)? Is it a norm that the international community has agreed upon through treaty (human right)?" Some or all of the rights may belong in more than one category; the discussion is more important than reaching a consensus. Allow ten minutes for this part of the activity.

Now post the newsprint you have prepared. Invite participants to reflect in their journals on one or more of the questions. Allow ten minutes.

When you have five minutes left, invite a few volunteers to briefly share from their reflections. Then distribute Handout 1, The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Invite participants to scan the handout. Ask volunteers to comment on anything they find surprising, and share your own observations.

Including All Participants

Create a large-print handout that includes the discussion questions to assist participants who are visually impaired.