ROCHESTER: Diocese helps sponsor celebration of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 12, 2008

The public policy committee of the Diocese of Rochester was among the 104 sponsors of an evening to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on December 10, 1948. The document is considered the first global expression of inherent human rights. In 1976, after ratification by a sufficient number of individual nations, the Declaration took the force of international law. The document's first sentence reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Its 30 articles have served to buttress international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions and laws. Among other principles, the Declaration epouses that torture, arbitrary arrest and discrimination are wrong and that all human beings have the right to nationality, property, freedom of thought and peaceful assembly. Article 26 begins, "Everyone has the right to education," and it was this article that was the focus of this year's Rochester commemoration on December 8. Since 1998, the Rochester interfaith community has organized a candlelight vigil reading of the Declaration, a potluck super and a panel discussion highlighting one or more of the Declaration's articles. The panel discussion topic was "The School to Prison Pipeline," introduced on the evening's program with a quote from Marion Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund: "Once children drop out, or are pushed out of school, the prison pipeline is only one wrong move away." The panel consisted of Rochester city school superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard; a college-bound recent graduate who had dropped out of school for a time; a 19-year-old now studying for the General Educational Development tests; a county official in community school support programs; and an attorney from the New York Civil Liberties Union. Panelists agreed that it takes less energy for educators to define a child by his or her worst mistakes, instead of working with the student to make healthier choices. Brizard said, "I've seen what can happen when people are disenfranchised from the system," defending his policy of in-school suspension which he and the panelists agree help prevent school-aged children -- bored and unsupervised in the community while suspended from school -- from being arrested. -- The Rev. Lisa B. Hamilton is correspondent for Provinces I, II, III and IV. She is based in Venice, Florida and Sandisfield, Massachusetts.