How fare the ideals of the Founders this Independence Day? Our nation’s 226th birthday is a fitting occasion to take stock of where we stand and how we stand in the world today.
We are at war, just as war had come among our countrymen’s homes that first Independence Day in 1776. The British red coats had attacked the colonists nearly 15 months earlier at Lexington and Concord. And in the Declaration of Independence, the signers complained that the British had stirred up as co-antagonists against the colonials “savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction, of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
We are at war with adherents of a brand of Islamic militancy without borders across the globe. And we are still in dangerous ideological battles with the remaining Communist nations and central planners of the world. At home, court decisions these past few days have illustrated gaping divisions over application of the Founders’ views in interpretations of the law.
We seem to be lacking common sense these days – not merely with the meaning of practical reasoning but also of the “sense” we should hold in common as Americans.
Most of the Founders were men of serious religious faith; a scant few were not. (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and firebrand pamphleteer Thomas Paine – who penned the original defense of the American Revolutionary cause “Common Sense” – come to mind.) But all of them were men of serious ideas. And they knew that unless our government is built on principles derived from an infinite reference point, the whole dissolves as a confusion of lies.
In detailing the quarrels that impelled their decision to separate from rule by Britain, the Declaration’s signers laid out their appeal on the basis of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” before launching into the statement of principles on which their new nation was being founded: “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, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” The Declarationists concluded by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World” and announcing their “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
Despite these clear foundations setting forth a government premised on God-given rights of all human persons, a California federal appeals court last week ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically because of reference to our land as “one nation under God,” is unconstitutional. In another California court, Judge Robert Takasugi ruled that the designation of groups linked to our enemies as “terrorist” is unconstitutional and must be subject to appeal. And a federal judge in New York held to the decision he had earlier hinted – that he believes the federal death penalty unconstitutional. And this despite the fact that the Constitution makes explicit provision for capital punishment.
Responding to the decision striking down the Pledge, President George W. Bush invoked the heritage we celebrate on the Fourth of July: “America is … a nation that values our relationship with an Almighty. Declaration of God in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t violate rights. As a matter of fact, it’s a confirmation of the fact that we received our rights from God, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence. I believe that it points up the fact that we need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench. …[T]he Almighty is important – obviously … a very important part of the life of our country. And that’s why the ruling of the courts was out of step with the traditions and history of America.”
(The controversy raises a strange query: Why do atheists proselytize? Why waste any portion of their short span of days in forcing others to publicly adhere to their rejection of God, if death ends all? …To what purpose, to expand the hold of atheism on the public square? Atheism is incoherent when entering the public arena this way. If God does not exist, there is no standard of morality that can be appealed to as holding a claim over all humans. That is, there is no “ought to” that distinguishes the new conditions they seek as better than the existing ones they consider bad. Thus, atheism implies the impossibility of justice – so that atheistic governance reverts simply to a naked or barely disguised exercise of power.)
Those who applaud the decision strike the Pledge might ponder the Declaration’s charges against King George III: “He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Does this not sound, were we transported to Revolutionary days, like their sympathies align more with the royalists than the colonial revolutionaries?
And to those who counsel acceding without objection to the decision: To not join this battle is to lend credence to the falsehood that the ideals of the Founders define nothing more than another special interest group seeking a share of political spoils.
Chuck Colson observed how far such judicial “reasoning” strays from the common sense uniting our Founding Fathers: “The truth is that the Minutemen – local merchants and farmers who stood on that village green to repel the red-coated British invaders – were also motivated by their deepest religious convictions. Pastors in Boston and throughout New England argued that the Revolution was justified in part because King George and the British government were depriving the colonists of religious freedom – even imposing the Church of England on them. The Revolution was more than just a reaction to taxation without representation; it was also about the right to freely worship God. What a supreme irony! On the very ground on which our forefathers stood to defend liberty and create a new country, the very thing they fought and died for is being suppressed in the name of political correctness. …[These anti-religious] follies will likely continue until people wake up to the fact that the tyrants of today are more dangerous than the tyrants of 1775. At least then they wore red coats, and you could see them coming.”
Notably, the International Criminal Court began official implementation Monday, grounded in international laws not crafted with the “consent of the governed” – and akin to these charges from the Declaration: “For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: For transporting us beyond the seas to be tried for pretended offences….” As for other Communists and central planners on the march this July 4th, tyrannizers all: North Korea and South Korea exchanged fatal blows this week. Red China has tested weapons that easily threaten our countrymen. Cuba’s repressive government has affirmed continuation in perpetuity of its Communist control over its citizens.
Only the atheistic Communist nations are routinely imprisoning and torturing citizens for their religious beliefs. But Russia, once seemingly irrevocably lost to Communism, this week adopted a new rule of law enshrining the rights of Russian citizens. The changes in Russia demonstrate that even apparently hopelessly enslaved nations can be freed … and we know how and why that transpired – because President Ronald Reagan entreated the Russian people through the Declaration principles, invoking the shimmering exemplar of America as a “shining city on a hill.”
Likewise, nations under the influence of our enemies’ Islamic extremism minimally tolerate other religious faiths, generally punishing acts contrary to Islamic law – a violation of the right to free exercise of faith. But President Bush has also invoked the vision of a “shining city on a hill,” outlining a plan for self-government for Palestine – as a model for all Middle Eastern states – rooted in the principles of life and liberty expressed in our Declaration. It is noteworthy that the Afghanistan government, until recently the most oppressive Islamic regime in the region, has just implemented a republican form of government.
The illumination arises from Lady Liberty’s light – a beacon of hope that also has made our country a target of terrorism. Liberty and tyranny, ever wrestling in conflict: “…the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them, and formidable to tyrants only.”
Will the principles of America’s Founding advance or recede here at home and abroad? The man we often cite as our favorite Founding Father, Samuel Adams, pleaded the urgency of the choice, “Courage, then, my countrymen, our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.”
And Thomas Jefferson, writing a September 12, 1821, letter to his once-bitter political adversary, John Adams, summed up for all patriots still honoring the Founders’ ideals: “I will not believe our labors are lost. I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on a steady advance.”
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