As we reflect upon the Declaration of Independence remember that our forebears were not declaring their independence from Divine Providence. Rather, they were trusting in the primacy of the Governance of God over their own lives and their noble undertaking. They sought independence from a monarchy which had become tyrannical, precisely because it had forgotten the implications of the primacy of Divine Providence.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) – We will celebrate the 4th of July this weekend in the United States of America. People will gather to celebrate our Independence. Fireworks will light up the sky, families will gather and we will pause to remember those who gave their lives so that the promises set forth in that Declaration of Independence could inform a new Nation. Their courageous Declaration, signed on this date proclaimed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights – that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men”
The Declaration of Independence was the birth certificate of the United States of America. The words are still memorized, at least by some schoolchildren, and can still bring a tear to the oldest American eye with little effort. The principles they communicate have informed our history as a free people and inspired our neighbors in other parts of the world to stand up against all forms of tyranny.
As we reflect upon the Declaration of Independence this weekend we need to remember that our forebears were not declaring their independence from Divine Providence. Rather, they were trusting in the primacy of the Governance of God over their own lives and their noble undertaking.
They sought independence from a monarchy which had become tyrannical precisely because it had forgotten the implications of the primacy of Divine Providence. The principles set forth in that Declaration were a rallying cry which called forth extraordinary sacrifice. They were rooted in something much greater than political expediency. That is why those principles became a measuring stick against which all governments of men would be measured in the future.
They believed there actually were truths to be held – and that those truths are self-evident. Those truths include the existence of unalienable rights which are given to all men and women by a Creator. They believed that those truths and those rights can also be discerned by all men and women because they are revealed by the Natural Law which is written on all human hearts and is itself a participation in God’s law.
Certainly, not all of the American founders were orthodox, classical Christians. Thomas Jefferson was probably more of a Deist than a classical Christian. He had a fondness for the French Revolution – which was cut from a very different set of principles than the American Revolution. According to some sources, he even had a Bible with all references which he considered to be “superstitious” removed. Other sources indicate he actually grew in his embrace of the tenets of the Christian faith over time.
Whichever account is more accurate, one thing is clear, Jefferson was a man who understood the true sources of our liberties. He knew they did not come from a civil government. He secured the first freedom, Religious Freedom, as a fundamental human right. It is Jefferson’s words which still speak from the third panel of the Memorial built in his honor: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration, Charles Carroll of Carrolton, cousin of the Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore, was the only Catholic signer. At the time of his signing it was illegal for Catholics to hold public office or to vote in Maryland. Yet, he still pledged with all of the signatories: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Carroll knew the importance of the vision of freedom, rights and liberty which that Declaration proclaimed in those four profoundly simple but supremely powerful words: “We Hold These Truths.” The question which must be asked as we celebrate our Independence this weekend is a sobering one, What Truths do we Still Hold? Do we even believe that truths exist and can be known?
There are competing visions of the human person, human dignity, human rights, and human freedom at work in many of the very institutions formed in response to this Declaration. The recognition of the preeminent Right to Life, so clearly set forth in the words of this Declaration, is now rejected by the civil and criminal law of the very Nation which they helped to birth. How can a Nation which has enshrined the killing of innocent children in the womb in its positive law claim that that it still recognizes the unalienable right to life?
The child in the womb is our first neighbor. Certainly all of the American founders would agree it is wrong to kill an innocent neighbor. She is the first legal immigrant with her citizenship assured only if she can make it out of the birth canal alive, under the strained interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution now declared by the Supreme Court.
How can we read Jefferson’s words, “God who gave us life gave us liberty” and not see the evil of a jurisprudence which puts the police power of the Government behind the intentional taking of her life by pretending to find the “right” to commit such a heinous crime within a so called “liberty interest” of the same U.S. Constitution? The second part of Jefferson’s statement cries out for an answer on this 4th of July: “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
The entire infrastructure of human rights and freedoms is at risk when we fail to recognize the preeminent Right to Life. Human Rights are goods of the human person, not ethereal concepts floating around somewhere. Every procured abortion kills a human person and violates their very Right to Life. Liberty itself is at risk when there exists in our positive law a so called “right” to kill the very human person required to receive the other rights or to exercise them.
The US Supreme Court acts routinely without any regard for the Natural Moral Law. It disregards the separation of powers, does not respect past precedent, and rejects the will of the people as evidenced by the vote. For example, it rejected the objective truth about marriage revealed by the Natural Mora Law and, in spite of properly passed legislation, rejected the express will of the people. They simply decreed to be a marriage relationships which can never be a marriage because they cannot achieve the ends of marriage. In doing so, they used the phrase “equal protection” to assert that the law is what they say it is – and anyone who disagrees with the majority opinion is now considered a bigot. Legal positivism at its worst has become the norm.
The long term effect of this horrendous judicial opinion will be devastating on our social order, our children and the true common good. Marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of creation – and children have a right to a mother and a Father. Marriage is between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family is at the very foundation of our freedom. Family is the first vital cell of society; the first church, first school, first hospital, first economy, first government and first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.
Marriage between one man and one woman was not an idea manufactured by the Christian Church. It preceded Christianity. Though affirmed, fulfilled, and elevated by Christian teaching, the truth that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman is not based on religion or revelation alone, but on the Natural Moral Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason.
This very claim of the existence of a higher law, a Natural Moral Law, is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built. It is the source of every authentic human and civil rights movement. This Natural Moral Law gives us the norms we need to build truly human and humane societies and govern ourselves. It should also inform our positive law or we will become lawless and devolve into anarchy. The Court Supreme Court has rejected the very source of its authority.
Most recently, in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, Commissioner, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas Law which required that medical doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital and that abortion facilities have the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. The two requirements were the express will of the people of Texas. They were also commonsense health and safety regulations, in the event of an emergency arising out of surgical abortions.
The rejection of these reasonable safety and health restrictions by the Supreme Court ripped the veneer off of the Court’s pretense to impartiality. Legal abortion on demand is now some form of “super right”. The sophistry in the judicial opinions following Roe and Doe, which purport to allow States to pass reasonable restrictions on abortion, are now proven to have been a subterfuge. The ruling is a disaster for mothers and children in the womb. It is also a major blow to the ongoing human rights struggle to restore the recognition of the right to life to US civil and criminal law.
We have lost our way as a Nation and we need to correct our course. That will require heartfelt, focused prayer and repentance, as well as responsible, faithful citizenship. The promise of the Declaration of the Declaration of Independence cries out for those who believe in its promise to stand up for its true meaning and work to restore the unique experiment in ordered liberty which it offers for future generations.
Like millions throughout the United States of America, my family will pause to thank God for the privilege of living in this Nation. Then, we will rededicate ourselves to working for the more perfect application of the principles which inspired the founders. They beckon every succeeding generation to sacrifice again to secure the blessings of liberty for all.
No matter how diverse the American founders were in their religious convictions they all affirmed the truths this Declaration proclaimed and recognized that the unalienable rights which flowed from them were given not by civil government but endowed by the Creator.
The implication is obvious; they could not be taken away by civil government either. On July 4, 2016, we should celebrate our Independence by reaffirming our Dependence on God and proclaim together again that we STILL hold these truths! Thomas Jefferson was correct, the God who gave us life gave us liberty. Our Independence requires our dependence on that same God.