On one key priority, Mike Pompeo has it exactly right.

The United States needs to stand for the inalienable rights of people around the globe.

Mr. Pompeo, the current U.S. Secretary of State, was in Manhattan Friday to give a Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. Mr. Pompeo is a former member of Congress from the Wichita area currently serving as the nation’s top diplomat.

The central thrust of his speech, which you can read in its entirety in Sunday’s Mercury, was that those rights are at the core of who we are as Americans. He said “we abhor violations of these rights, whenever and wherever they are committed.” That’s why he speaks out on behalf of the people of other nations — mentioning Iran, Venezuela and China — when they suffer such violations.

That is exactly right, but it’s easier said than done. The U.S. has other interests — inexpensive oil, for instance — and looks the other way at violations by key economic or political allies from time to time. Every time we do that, we bolster our critics and make ourselves look like hypocrites.

Mr. Pompeo was also arguing on behalf of a tighter definition of inalienable rights than is sometimes used by advocates for other causes. This is a long-running argument: Do people have a “right” to health insurance? To inexpensive housing? Do they have a “right” to a free college education?

Well, no, they don’t. Those are not rights, not in the sense that Mr. Pompeo was describing — and we agree. Rights are fundamental and inalienable. We’re talking about the right to free speech, and the right to practice any religion. Essentially, these are freedoms from government interference. The other things are more accurately called entitlements — at most — and they are not as foundational.

Certainly, we have sympathy for those who live in crummy housing, and we ought to do our best to provide good public education at a low cost. Some form of government regulation for health care also makes sense. We are not asserting that those things should go unregulated; we’re not engaging in a debate on those matters right now.

The point is that there is a debate, and there ought to be. Those are policy matters.

But there’s no debate about the right to free speech, and the right to assemble, and the right to a trial if you’re accused of a crime. These are in the Bill of Rights. So is the right to keep and bear arms, which is why any regulation of firearms is such a thorny matter. It should be. We’re talking about inalienable rights.

Mr. Pompeo is right to focus narrowly on those rights, and he’s right to emphasize them in our relations with other countries. Those principles are demanding, and at times difficult to stand by, but in the long run doing so is entirely in our best interest.

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