Three human rights myths serve to limit the debate over human rights in the United States and bias our perspective in dealing with the human rights claims of citizens from other countries. The first myth is that human rights belong solely to individuals and protect them largely from negative actions by the state. The second myth declares that civil and political rights are primary while economic, cultural, and social rights are secondary. The third myth asserts that the only rights that count are legal in nature and that moral or personal claims are invalid or irrelevant. Even a brief historical analysis reveals that all three myths are just that—myths. The group rights of corporations are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, economic rights have been upheld over political claims as witness the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, and legal debates over rights have often obscured the political, personal, and identity questions that many rights arguments revolve around. Only a conception of human rights that views them as the gradual empowerment of people or groups or the deconcentration of power removes them from the realm of an elite debate among experts and allows for cross-cultural comparison and action.

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