Earlier this week President Obama gave a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In that address he quoted the Declaration of Independence. I should say instead that he misquoted the Declaration of Independence or as I’m sure we’ll hear from an advisor, “he misspoke.” While on the surface this may appear to be an innocent mistake, though I doubt it considering the extended pause, lack of the typical “um” preceding his sentences and the presence of a teleprompter for a pre-written speech, there’s more danger in this “misspeak” than may be obvious at first glance.
The Declaration of Independence was penned by a man named Thomas Jefferson. While Thomas Jefferson may not have been a Christian, he was certainly at least agnostic. Jefferson, like the other Founding Fathers, believed our rights come from our Creator or are part of the Laws of Nature. The authors of the Declaration and the Constitution looked back on Western tradition (in particular English and Viking beliefs) for the origin of our rights. To these men, our rights do not come from this world. While most of the Founders practiced Christianity, even those whose beliefs are less clear (like Jefferson and Franklin), knew our rights came from a higher power.
Just as the laws of physics or chemistry are pre-set and unchangeable, our Natural Rights are pre-determined and constant. These laws were dictated at creation, by our Creator, they are constant and unchanging. These rights have transcended time and are as permanent as any earthly thing can be. These laws are called inalienable because they exist regardless of government or social construct. We have a right to life and liberty, because we are human and given that right. Our rights are secured through government, but not the result of government.
This belief in natural rights is the foundation of our Constitution. The fact that President Obama appears to contemplate, and then decides to exclude the Creator from the Declaration is a scary notion. If men are not “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” then how are these rights “endowed?” Rights must come from somewhere. If they are not naturally occurring or granted by God that responsibility falls to a delegate of society. Whether that is a president, king, dictator, parliamentary body or even society as a whole that’s a scary thought. All of those are fallible extensions of men. These fickle sources of rights will change on a whim and exclude “undesirables.”
If President Obama truly believes rights are endowed, he cannot leave out the endower. President Obama may believe government bestows our rights, I think this “slip” indicates that, but the repercussions of this belief are terrifying. We must realize that the Endower of our Rights transcends time. He created our rights and they exist not because a government granted them, but because He granted them. If you’re an atheist fine, but accept rights exist as a Law of Nature. Laws of Nature are unchangeable and external to all forms of human government.
Government cannot create rights; it was created to protect what already exist. The problem with a Constitution that lays out what it must do to (some may say for) a society is that government will then continuously grow and destroy the very thing it was created to preserve, our Rights. Government derives its authority from the governed. It must remain small and remember it’s controlled by the people with the express purpose of protecting life, liberty and property. If government starts in the business of creating rights, the opposite will happen–we will lose our liberty.
The Founders deliberately inserted the Creator in our Declaration of Independence. Let’s never forget where our rights come from and how they are secured. “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.” Thomas Jefferson penned these words in words in 1776 and they are still as true and unchangeable today.