Article 16 Initiative

“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and
is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(3)

The Article 16 Initiative seeks to preserve, protect, and promote the family as society’s “natural and fundamental” unit, as recognized in Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsand in over 100 national constitutions.

The family is natural because it was established by the Creator asa “universal community based on the marital union of a man and a woman” and “the fountain and cradle of new life, the natural refuge for children, and the first and foremost school to teach the values necessary for the well-being of children and society.” (World Family Declaration)

The family is fundamental because it is “the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history,” in the words of historian Will Durant, and “the proven bulwark of liberty and the key to development, prosperity, and peace”—in short, “the bedrock of society, the strength of our nations, and the hope of humanity.”(World Family Declaration)


“The Natural Family in an Unnatural World”

by Allan C. Carlson, excerpt

I believe that we need a new vocabulary that looks forward rather than backwards, one that excites with positive ideals rather than lectures about the “good old days,” and one that trumps the historical determinism of the socialists with an appeal to the truths found in nature and nature’s God.

I believe that this can be done by focusing on the phrase, “the natural family.” We are now engaged in a battle over the meaning of words: because words convey ideas and ideals. In May 1998, a Working Group of the World Congress of Families met in a Second Century B.C. room in the ancient city of Rome, to craft a definition of this term; namely:

“The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage for the purposes of satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love, welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children, sharing a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life, building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning, and extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.”….

We envision a culture that understands the marriage of a woman to a man to be the central aspiration of the young. This culture affirms marriage as the best path to health, security, and fulfillment. It affirms the home built on marriage to be the source of true political sovereignty. It also holds the household framed by marriage to be the first economic unit, a place rich in activity. This culture treasures private property in family hands as the foundation of independence and liberty. It encourages young women to grow into wives, homemakers, and mothers. It encourages young men to grow into husbands, homebuilders, and fathers. This culture celebrates the marital sexual union as the unique source of human life. These homes are open to full quivers of children, the means of generational continuity and community renewal.

Joy is the product of persons enmeshed in vital bonds with spouses, children, parents, and kin. A vital familial culture features a landscape of family homes and gardens busy with useful tasks and ringing with the laughter of many children. It regards parents as the primary educators of their children. It opens homes to extended family members who need special care due to age or infirmity. This culture views neighborhoods, villages, and townships as the second locus of political sovereignty. It requires a freedom of commerce that respects and serves family integrity, as well as a nation-state that regards protection of the natural family as its first responsibility.Read more


The Origin and Significance of Article 16(3)

excerpt from “The Family: Ground Zero” by E. Douglas Clark in Ave Maria International Law Journal

In the wake of the global catastrophe known as World War II while mankind contemplated the horrible destruction, individuals turned to family—as memorialized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Three years earlier at the creation of the United Nations, the UN Charter had committed Member States to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” But in the ensuing months as the world learned of the wartime Nazi atrocities, it became apparent that human rights needed greater definition and articulation. In the first meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, it was charged with the “task of . . . following up in the field of peace the fight which free humanity had waged in the fields of war, defending against offensive attacks the rights and dignity of man and establishing . . . a powerful recognition of human rights.” A declaration of human rights had to be created.

The drafting and negotiation process proved complex and arduous, requiring nearly a hundred official (and numerous unofficial) meetings over 18 long months during which the delegates worked to produce a document “sufficiently definite to have real significance both as an inspiration and a guide to practice,” but “sufficiently general and flexible to apply to all men, and to be capable of modification to suit people at different stages of social and political development.” The result was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948. At its adoption, Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the Commission and its Drafting Committee, told the United Nations: “We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well be- come the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”

And so it has been. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated text in history, the Universal Declaration has become “the most universal document in the world.” It “has been adopted in or has influenced most national constitutions since 1948,” and has “served as the foundation for a growing number of national laws, international laws, and treaties, as well as regional, national, and sub-national institutions protecting and promoting human rights.”

At a more practical level, Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon notes: “The most impressive advances in human rights—the fall of apartheid in South Africa and the collapse of the Eastern European totalitarian regimes—owe more to the moral beacon of the Declaration than to the many covenants and treaties that are now in force. Its nonbinding principles, carried far and wide by activists and modern communications, have vaulted over the political and legal barriers that impede efforts to establish international enforcement mechanisms.”

Even so, continues Glendon, “time and forgetfulness are taking their toll” as “the Declaration has come to be treated more like a monument to be venerated from a distance than a living document to be reappropriated by each generation. Rarely, in fact, has a text been so widely praised yet so little read or understood.”

Family is mentioned several times throughout the Universal Declaration, and is the primary focus of Article 16, beginning in the first two paragraphs with “the right to marry and to found a family,” and the “equal rights” of the spouses. Paragraph 3 then provides a facially simple description of the family’s relationship to society: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

According to human rights scholar Manfred Nowak, the intent behind the phrase “natural and fundamental group unit of society” was “to emphasize that despite various traditions and social structures, a pillar of all societies is the family as the smallest group unit,” while the language “entitled to protection by society and the State” was meant to “shield the family as the cornerstone of the entire social order.”

This language, which became section 3 of Article 16, originated with a proposed amendment by Charles Malik, the first Lebanese ambassador to the US and the UN, and a man of tremendous talent recognized as “the pivotal figure in the work of the commission” and touted by his fellow delegates as the “driving force” behind much of the document. Malik’s proposed amendment read as follows: “The family deriving from marriage is the natural and fundamental group unit of society. It is endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights antecedent to all positive law and as such shall be protected by the State and Society.

Malik explained his rationale: “He said that he had used the word ‘Creator’ because he believed that the family did not create itself . . . . He also contended that the family was endowed with inalienable rights, rights which had not been conferred upon it by the caprice of men.” Malik further “maintained that society was not composed of individuals, but of groups, of which the family was the first and most important unit; in the family circle the fundamental human freedoms and rights were originally nurtured.”

Speaking later of those key groups, “this whole plenum of intermediate institutions spanning the entire chasm between the individual and the State,” Malik declared he was convinced that they are “the real sources”of our freedom and our rights. “We speak of fundamental freedoms and of human rights; but, actually, where and when are we really free and human? Is it in the street, is it in our direct relations to our State? Is it not rather the case that we enjoy our deepest and truest freedom and humanity in our family, in the church, in our intimate circle of friends, when we are immersed in the joyful ways of life of our own people, when we seek, find, see, and acknowledge the truth?”

Malik was articulating not only his personal view, but also that of other principal framers, who, “though they differed on many points, were as one in their belief on the priority of culture.” The French delegate René Cassin observed, “In the eyes of the Declaration’s authors, effective respect for human rights depends primarily and above all on the mentalities of individuals and social groups.” And Eleanor Roosevelt, who had directed the drafting process, asserted: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home.”

According to Mary Ann Glendon, these, and similar statements by others, reveal something important about the Universal Declaration. “Those convictions of the framers undergird one of the most remarkable features of the Declaration: its attention to the “small places” where people first learn about their rights and how to exercise them responsibly—families, schools, workplaces, and religious and other associations. These little seedbeds of character and competence, together with the rule of law, political freedoms, social security, and international cooperation, are all part of the Declaration’s dynamic ecology of freedom.”

This key premise underlying the Universal Declaration invests its family provision with colossal significance, for of all those “small places”—or, to use Malik’s words, among the “whole plenum of intermediate institutions spanning the entire chasm between the individual and the State”—the only one mentioned in the Universal Declaration as having rights per se is the family rights the State itself is made expressly responsible to protect. Adding to this emphasis on family are the Universal Declaration’s statements that, “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,”22 and, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

It is no exaggeration to say that in the Universal Declaration, the family is at the very center of rights. The family is fundamental because it is the seedbed of all the other rights delineated in the Universal Declaration. To make the world new following the devastation of the most destructive war in history, the United Nations built its structure of universal human rights squarely on the foundation of the family.

The portion of Malik’s proposed family language that did not pass was the reference to the Creator, deleted by vote after the Soviet delegate objected. The Universal Declaration, he insisted, “was meant for mankind as a whole, whether believers or unbelievers.”

Likewise in Article 1, other proposed references to deity did not make it into the final text after an appeal by the distinguished Chinese delegate, Peng-chun Chang. As summarized by one scholar, Chang explained that his country “comprised a large proportion of humanity, and its people had ideals and traditions different from those of the West.” And as he had refrained from imposing Chinese ideals, “he hoped his colleagues would show similar consideration” and not mention God. Nor would this be a great loss to believers, for “those who believed in God, he suggested, could still find the idea of God in the strong assertions that all human beings are born free and equal and endowed with reason and conscience.”

Thus it happened the Universal Declaration was left with no express reference to deity, a fact Eleanor Roosevelt later commented: “Now, I happen to believe that we are born free and equal in dignity and rights because there is a divine Creator, and there is a divine spark in men. But, there were other people around the table who wanted it expressed in such a way that they could think in their particular way about this question, and finally, these words were agreed upon because they… left it to each of us to put in our own reason.”

Reading one’s “own reason” into the Universal Declaration is easily done in the Article 16 provision calling the family “the natural and fundamental group unit of society . . . entitled to protection by society and State.” Although shorn of its proposed reference to a Creator, the language is, according to University of Chicago Professor Don Browning, “less than Malik wanted, but more than first meets the eye.” For “the words ‘natural,’ ‘fundamental,’ and ‘group unit’ were retained and are not meaningless. Furthermore, they point to some model of natural law.” And “since society and the state are to protect the family, it is clear that Malik’s formulation deprives society and state of the power to grant the family its basic rights. These rights are independent of these social entities.”

Those predisposed to believe that the rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration originate with a Creator can find ample support in its language echoing both the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man (declared “in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being”) and the US Declaration of Independence (holding that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”). And for the adherents of the world’s three Abrahamic religions who believe that the Creator created the family, the Universal Declaration family language is flexible enough to be thus read.

But just as Eleanor Roosevelt and the other framers intended, one need not embrace any theistic paradigm to appreciate the insights provided by the Universal Declaration regarding the “natural” function of the family in human civilization. According to Professor Richard G. Wilkins: “Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies fundamental truths that, for too long, have not been given their deserved attention and respect…. As reflected in the precise and elegant terms of the Universal Declaration, the family is not merely a construct of human will or imagination. The family has a profoundly important connection to nature. This connection begins with the realities of reproduction (underscored by recent studies which demonstrate that children thrive best when raised by married biological parents) and extends to the forces that shape civilization itself. It encompasses, among other things, the positive personal, social, cultural, and economic outcomes that current research suggests flow from a man learning to live with a woman (and a woman learning to live with a man) in a committed marital relationship. The family, in short, is the ‘natural and fundamental group unit of society’ precisely because mounting evidence attests that the survival of society depends on the positive outcomes derived from the natural union of a man and a woman.”Read more