The Worth and Dignity of Every Person

One of the core teachings of virtually all of our religious traditions and our secular democratic tradition as well is the idea that every person has worth and dignity. Democracy really cannot function without this idea, because democracy values all the people. That’s what democracy is all about. At least, that’s the ideal.

So this means everyone. This includes all men and women and those of other gender identities, as well as all children. It includes people of all religions, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and others.  It also includes people in pagan traditions and atheists as well. All of these people have worth and dignity and deserve a chance to live in peace in the way they have chosen. None of them deserves to be harassed or persecuted.

All ethnic groups deserve that equal chance as well, all African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Irish, Latinos, everyone. No one in our democratic society deserves persecution or bias. Everyone should be respected, without exception.

What about people who break the law? What about those who may even commit serious crimes?  Of course they have to face the consequences of their actions, but they still have rights. They have a right to fair and equal treatment. They have the right to a fair trial in a criminal justice system that treats everyone the same. They have a right to a reasonable penalty that fits the crime. They have a right not to be beaten, mistreated or tortured. They have a right to reenter society with a real chance for a decent life once their sentence is completed. They still have worth and dignity as human beings.

As we enter a new chapter of American history, many of us are worried that the worth and dignity of some people will not be protected. The angry rhetoric of the campaign has contributed to these concerns. During the campaign we often heard language demeaning women and language that was perceived as threatening to Muslims, LGBT citizens, African Americans and Latinos. These harsh words still hang in the air, making many people wonder if they are safe in their own country.

Perhaps this was only the heat of the campaign. We don’t really know how much campaign rhetoric is serious on any subject these days. But we all need to make it a priority of the next four years to pay serious attention to whether all people are being treated with worth and dignity. We all need to stand up for the rights of everyone regardless of what group they may belong to. I don’t think democracy can work without this basic commitment.

I know that many houses of worship share these concerns and will be vigilant about both civil rights and human rights. Many secular organizations are working hard as well. It is also heartening to see new avenues of cooperation between these diverse groups. This is a time of energetic involvement and recommitment to our core values. This is the time to reaffirm our belief that every person has value. Then we need to engage in action to live out this crucial piece of the American dream.

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