Onward and upward in our exciting little discussion on human rights and electric cattle prods. This isn't the conclusion by any means, but I thought there was one point worth expanding on. When it comes to fundamental rights, I like to think there are three different ways of looking at them: whether you "deserve" them, whether you're "entitled" to them and whether you actually "have" them. So what's the difference?
First, there's "deserving." This is the Utopian scenario -- in a perfect world, everyone "deserves" the right to, say, freedom of worship. This is a purely theoretical concept; it's what you'd be talking about if you were at the United Nations and trying to hammer out a framework of what basic rights everyone "ought to" have. Perfectly reasonable and just as perfectly theoretical, but it's a nice place to start.
At the next level, there are the rights you're "entitled" to because they've been formalized in some way in, perhaps, a founding document of some kind. That is, they're explicitly spelled out in something like the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights or Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In short, they're not just a good idea, they're the law.
And, finally, there are the rights you actually have which, as we have already seen, are not necessarily the same ones you're entitled to, are they? That you're entitled to certain rights doesn't mean a whole lot if you're not allowed to exercise those rights, does it? And what does all of this have to do with the price of cattle prods in China? I'm glad you asked.
As one example, we've already seen the difference between being entitled to and actually having rights in the U.S. During the 2004 Republican National Convention, protestors who (quite reasonably) thought they had the right to freedom of speech and assembly and expression were nonetheless rounded up and dumped into fenced-in "free speech zones" or simply arrested. It didn't matter that they were "entitled" to those rights, as they simply weren't allowed to exercise them.
However, after the dust settled, several of these protestors went to court and sued for infringement of their rights and, just as reasonably, they won or, in other cases, had all charges against them dropped for a very simple reason -- they could point at the appropriate documentation to show that they were in fact entitled to do what they had been doing. In short, they had the law on their side which was all that mattered when things got to court. But that's most emphatically not what is happening in China.
When Christian missionaries are rounded up and arrested, they can't possibly make the argument that they're entitled to do what they've been doing because, quite simply, they're not. This situation is clearly not a parallel to the protestors in the U.S. because, the last time I looked, there is nothing in Chinese law that gives foreign missionaries the right to evangelize there.
If those missionaries end up in court in China, they can't point at any official documentation in Chinese law that gives them the right to preach on Chinese soil, period. Rather, at least based on my reading, Chinese law makes it very clear that that kind of proselytizing is not accepable. What this means, in a nutshell, is that those missionaries not only do not have the right to proselytize, they aren't even entitled to that right, so trying that argument in a Chinese courtroom would get them absolutely nowhere, and rightfully so. Simply put, these people were breaking Chinese law and they knew it.
As a last resort, these people can always argue that they "deserve" the right to evangelize and, if they want to make that argument, they're welcome to it, but don't confuse that argument with the one in which they're arguing that they're "entitled." You can argue all you want about what rights you "deserve" but, in the end, that argument doesn't carry a lot of weight in a repressive regime. Perhaps Clint Eastwood said it best:
Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman): I don't deserve this... to die like this...
Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood): Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
Those Christian missionaries knew what they were doing, and they knew it was against the law. And as to whether they "deserve" the right to evangelize in China, well, life's tough but deserve's got nothing to do with it.
And, no, we're not quite done here yet.