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American Catholic Declaration of Human Rights

“In January, 1947, a committee made up of U.S. Catholic laity and bishops appointed by the “National Catholic Welfare Conference” (the national agency of the American Catholic Bishops) issued nothing less than a “Declaration of Human Rights,” almost two years before the United Nations proclaimed its “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in December, 1948. In fact, the American Catholic Declaration was handed over to the “Committee on Human Rights of the United Nations,” the chair of which was Eleanor Roosevelt. A comparison of the “American Catholic Declaration” (which with 50 articles is more detailed than the UN Declaration with 30 articles) and that of the United Nations reveals amazing similarities, some passages of the latter being even verbatim that of the former. The Catholic document speaks of human “personal dignity….being endowed with certain natural, inalienable rights….The unity of the human race under God is not broken by geographical distance or by diversity of civilization, culture and economy…”

[This quote is from a lecture by Prof. Leonard Swidler of Temple University in Philadelphia on the 30th March 2006 which describes a Catholic precursor-document to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, p. 4; further references are in his note no. 15: “A Declaration of Human Rights. A Statement Just Drafted by a Committee Appointed by the National Catholic Welfare Conference,” The Catholic Action, XXIX (February 1947), pp. 4f. & 17; and “A Declaration of Rights. Drafted by a Committee Appointed by the National Catholic Welfare Conference,” The Catholic Mind, XLV, Nr. 1012 (April 1947), pp. 193-196. A German translation appeared in “Eine Charta der Menschenrechte. Eine Denkschrift der Katholiken Amerikas,” Die Furche, 8 (February 1947), pp. 4f. Both the original American and a German translation as well as an interesting analysis can be found in Gertraud Putz, Christentum und Menschenrechte (Innsbruck: Tyrolia Verlag, 1991), pp. 322-330, 388-397.]

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