MANHATTAN — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a call to action Friday for Americans to revere and recover a "proper understanding" of the nation's legacy of establishing and preserving God-given human rights in a world often bent on violating them.
America can't be complacent in its mission to promote and foster human rights around the world, Pompeo said, and he cast a wary eye toward communists in China, an international dilution of what qualifies as a "right," and politicians who corrupt rights in the pursuit of pet causes.
"This is how we honor America and our unique place in the world," Pompeo said. "This is how we recognize and call out nations that abuse rights. This is how we encourage the growth of societies that honor their people and their promises to them."
Pompeo offered his "defense of the American rights tradition" before a packed auditorium at Kansas State University for the 190th speech in the school's 53-year-old Landon Lecture series. The series is named for former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, whose daughter, former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, attended the lecture.
Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, praised his home state's role in the fight to end slavery. The violent clashes that forged the state's Bleeding Kansas identity, and wars throughout the nation's history, were fought to preserve unalienable rights, he said.
Pompeo said the rights spelled out in the country's Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that all humans are created equal, weren't unique to the United States.
"We were simply the first nation with the vision to organize around them, with a national mission to honor them, with an undaunted courage to fight for them," Pompeo said.
In the 20th century, America led nations to set a standard for how government treats people.
"This wasn't American imperialism — it was American mercy," he said.
Pompeo called on Americans to uphold this tradition, which has become "an uphill battle." Today's children, if they learn about the founding of the nation at all, aren't taught about the role of unalienable rights, he said.
Media try to rewrite America's history "as an unremitting tale of racism and misogyny," Pompeo said, and not "as a bold but imperfect experiment in freedom." And politicians, he said, frame pet causes as fights for rights in an attempt to bypass the normal political process."
International institutions allow "almost anything" to become a right, Pompeo said.
"This is an imperfect analogy, but the 13th ice cream cone isn’t better than the 12th," Pompeo said. "With respect to unalienable rights, more, per se, is not always better. When rights proliferate, we risk losing focus on core, unalienable rights."
This confusion, he said, has opened the door for countries like China that don't respect human rights.
Communists in China try to brainwash Muslims in internment camps into renouncing their culture and faith, Pompeo said. The United Nations adopted a resolution at China's urging to promote cooperation on human rights. Pompeo said the resolution was really coded language that allows regimes to be silent about human rights abuses.
To push back against "deliberate misunderstanding and cynical abuse" about rights, Pompeo in May launched the Commission on Unalienable Rights at the State Department. The bipartisan commission will begin with an understanding of rights as the nation's founders understood them. The mission is to uphold America's tradition of respecting those rights.
“This is how we foster the liberty that leads to sustainable prosperity, and opportunities for American businesses, on a fair and level playing field," Pompeo said. "This is how we build ties with countries that share our values and which cooperate with us on national security as a result."