FDR’s “Four Freedoms” 75 Years Ago and Today

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his now-famous speech on four freedoms essential to democracy and human rights:

Freedom of speech

Freedom of religion

Freedom from want

Freedom from fear 

These four freedoms are part of the key American ideals Human Rights First wants to see the United States to uphold.  As FDR encapsulated, “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.”

When the United States upholds its ideals, it is an important power for progress and liberation. When it doesn’t—not long after his Four Freedoms speech, FDR would place Japanese-Americans in internment camps—it causes suffering and diminishes its ability to lead globally.

In our work with human rights defenders and activists, we press the U.S. government to protect freedom of expression around the world. Those who work to defend the rights of LGBT people, journalists, political dissidents, and the marginalized should not be afraid that their speech will land them in jail, or worse. From Jamaica to Bahrain, we’ve stood with human rights defenders and called on our government to do so, too.

We call out antisemitism, extremism, and xenophobia that threaten the religious freedom of all people. Before Congress, the United Nations, and the European Union, we’ve called attention to the rise of antisemitism in Europe as a pressing human rights issue. And tomorrow we will release a breakthrough report on how to break the cycle of extremist violence in France.

FDR defined freedom from fear as the elimination of international aggression. That remains a core principle today, though our threats are different than what the world faced in Nazi Germany. As the United States pursues national security, it must keep its commitment to human rights at the center of its strategy. That’s why we pressed Congress to pass bipartisan legislation against torture (and won!) and we continue to call on the government to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Intertwined with these freedoms is the right to freedom from want—basic economic and social wellbeing. So we work on behalf of refugees, who have often suffered the loss of many of these essential freedoms, and help provide them with pro bono legal representation and social services. 

Human Rights First believes that our nation and our world is a better place when the United States upholds these ideals. Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought so too.


Published on January 6, 2016


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