The Fourth of July, Independence Day. One of our very favorite national holidays. Folks take time off, head to the beach, or the hills, or the parks, or maybe just the back yard for a barbecue. It’s play time, family time, lazy time. Sports time, fireworks, fun time. We need it.
In these, and many other ways, people practice their independence.
That’s what we’re celebrating, isn’t it? Everybody doing his or her own thing, accountable to nobody, freely enjoying all the benefits of liberty.
It’s miraculous, it’s exhilarating — and around the world, it’s still quite rare.
But we Americans have gotten used to it. Many of us think little of it, even take it for granted. We’ve always known it, expected it, and feel it’s somehow our “right.” Oh, somebody on TV or radio will say something patriotic about “remembering those gallant men and women who sacrificed to provide and protect our freedoms,” and we grunt assent momentarily.
But then we’re off to the weekend’s plans and fun.
Independence Day. Why, exactly, was a national holiday set aside for that? To remember, to celebrate, to hallow — independence?
Where did it come from, and what does it really mean? Let’s think about it. I seem to remember these words from our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote those words. Yes, the former president and one of our Founding Fathers, the originator of the currently wildly popular phrase “separation of church and state.”
But President Jefferson later wrote these words, too: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Don’t hear that quoted much today, do we? No, “separation of church and state” is the quote that rings more loudly, in liberal politics and legislation today. Yet the same revered founding father authored both statements; might we have misapplied the first one?
Jefferson’s friend and rival John Adams, a principal crafter of our Constitution, and later our second president, wrote: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
To our nation’s Founders, it was apparently obvious that this idea of independence” was linked inherently to, and inseparable from, the very author of liberty — God.
John Adams’ son, our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, wrote: “Is it not that in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? — that it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?”
Today, many an “expert,” who thinks he knows more about the intentions of our founders than they did themselves, screams bloody murder at the notion that they meant this to be a Christian nation. These “experts” proclaim America was created a secular nation, and that religion and mentions of God should be private matters, not heard in the public square and certainly not in the political arena.
This revision of actual history is especially popular on campus and in our classrooms. Educators swear by it. Teachers expect their students to parrot this falsehood, and unfortunately, they do.
All this flying in the face of foundational statements like “All the scholars are required to live a religious and blameless life according to the rules of God’s word, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures, that fountain of divine light and truth, and constantly attending all the duties of religion” (Yale, Student Guidelines 1787).
Princeton, and Harvard, all our early Eastern universities, later the University of Chicago — indeed, virtually every one of our revered colleges for a hundred years — were self-proclaimed Christian institutions, and required instruction in the Scriptures for their degrees and diplomas. No education was considered complete without that.
For many years after the Bill of Rights were amended to the Constitution, and President Jefferson had coined his misused “separation” phrase, almost every state in the union required newly elected office holders to profess their faith in God and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures as part of their oath of office!
Illegal? Un-constitutional? What did our Supreme Court say?
“Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament , without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine revelation in schools . . . its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained and its glorious principles of morality inculcated? . . . Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?” (unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, commending and encouraging the use of the Bible in Government-run schools, 1844).
“There is no dissonance in these [legal] declarations . . . These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons: they are organic [legal, governmental] utterances; they speak the voice of the entire people . . .These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation" (unanimous declaration of the Supreme Court, 1892).
The United States is not a theocracy. Nobody is forced or required to be a Christian, or even religious in any way. It is, indeed and in fact, a free country.
But as we celebrate our independence, let’s at least honestly and openly acknowledge the source of our independence, our freedoms, our democratic way of life.
It is, as the Declaration of Independence pointed out, our creator. It’s God. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
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