Four Freedoms

In September, 2010, University of Indiana law professor Florence Roisman told an audience at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore that the “right to housing” was as “American as apple pie.”  How could she get away with that? History.
In his 1941 State of the Union Address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated a post World War II vision of the world founded upon four freedoms:
·    freedom of speech and expression
·    freedom of religion
·    freedom from want
·    freedom from fear
The inclusion of economic need was more than rhetoric. FDR’s New Deal social programs during the Great Depression had created a statutory minimum (and overtime) wage, unemployment compensation, public assistance for widows and the disabled, public insurance for the elderly, public housing, and official recognition of labor unions. Given the proximity to economic catastrophe, the notion that freedom was intertwined with economics was understood.

FDR’s speech led to an “Economic Bill of Rights,” devised by his National Resources Planning Board , and later to a widely circulated pamphlet entitled Our Freedoms and Rights. The list of rights was astonishing, articulated by the board’s vice-chair Charles E. Merriam in his 1941 Edwin Lawrence Godkin Lecture on Democracy at Harvard University:
·    equal access to minimum security as well as to the advantages of civilization
·    food, shelter, clothing, on an American minimum standard
·    a job at a fair wage
·    a guaranty against joblessness
·    a guaranty of protection against accident and disease
·    a guaranteed education, adapted to a person’s personality
·    a guaranty of protection against old age
·    an opportunity for recreation and the cultural activities appropriate to his time.
Nor surprisingly, the Eleanor Roosevelt-led US Delegation embraced inclusion of economic rights in drafting the UDHR for the UN after WWII.

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