Majority Rule and Minority Rights
- On the surface, the principles of majority rule and the protection of
individual and minority rights would seem contradictory. In fact, however,
these principles are twin pillars holding up the very foundation of what we
mean by democratic government.
- Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues;
it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the
right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away
the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual.
- Minorities — whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief,
geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or
political debate — enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and
no majority, elected or not, should remove.
- Minorities need to trust that the government will protect their rights and
self-identity. Once this is accomplished, such groups can participate in, and
contribute to their country's democratic institutions.
- Among the basic human rights that any democratic government must protect
are freedom of speech and expression; freedom of religion and belief; due
process and equal protection under the law; and freedom to organize, speak
out, dissent, and participate fully in the public life of their society.
- Democracies understand that protecting the rights to upholding cultural
identity, social practices, individual consciences, and religious activities
of minorities is one of their primary tasks.
- Acceptance of ethnic and cultural groups that seem strange if not alien to
the majority can represent one of the greatest challenges that any democratic
government can face. But democracies recognize that diversity can be an
enormous asset. They treat these differences in identity, culture, and values
as a challenge that can strengthen and enrich them, not as a threat.
- There can be no single answer to how minority-group differences in views
and values are resolved — only the sure knowledge that only through the
democratic process of tolerance, debate, and willingness to compromise can
free societies reach agreements that embrace the twin pillars of majority rule
and minority rights.