“Controversial” civil rights

In every struggle for civil rights, there is controversy. By its very definition, a right implies not permissibility, but rather that permissiveness is not only inherently offensive to the concept of rights, but that this frame is at the root cause of the struggle. When one has the right, it is without question.

Controversy has existed in every struggle for human rights, for without controversy there is no struggle and without struggle there is no assertion of rights.

In the fight for racial and gender equality there has been controversy. In the struggle for equality in sexual orientation, there has been controversy. For those fighting for reproductive choice and those fighting for the right to life there has been controversy.

If controversy is definitively intertwined with the fight for any civil right, isn’t it redundant to say?

In fact, when it is used selectively for some rights struggles versus others is there a values judgment and a betrayal of impartiality to one side of a rights debate versus the other?

Consider CTV’s eulogy of Charlton Heston:

“Now to the death of Charlton Heston. As an actor, he parted the Red Sea, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, won a chariot race and survived an earthquake. But his most controversial role was played off-screen lobbying for gun rights as president of the National Rifle Association.”

Canadian news reports thankfully would not do Martin Luther King Jr. disservice and would not describe him playing a “controversial role” for civil rights, nor would they describe the Famous Five’s role as “controversial” when they asked the Supreme Court of Canada, “are women persons?” The fight for free speech has caused controversy, yet no self-respecting Canadian journalist would selectively describe such a struggle as “controversial”.

Since all rights struggles are controversial, why do some merit the qualifying (and effectively disqualifying) label?

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