The Founding Fathers, all God-fearing men, turned the world upside down on July 4, 1776 when they declared, that man possessed unalienable rights that come from the hand of God, not from a monarch or a potentate. For them, governments were established by a nation of people to protect those God-given rights:
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.
The Founders understood that recognizing God as the ultimate basis of civil society, is absolutely indispensable to democracy.
They knew that if God were to be excluded from civic life, objective moral criteria would be superseded by the desires of the majority and ultimately by the legislators of that majority. The source of morality would be transferred from the immutable author of human nature to the whims of the rulers of men.
The position of our forefathers was best explained by the distinguished constitutional scholar Francis E. Lucey, S.J., one-time dean of the Georgetown University School of Law:
To their way of thinking, deification of the state was absolutely antagonistic to democracy. To their way of thinking, God-given rights were essential to democracy. To their way of thinking, there could be no democracy except on the basis that authority to determine rights and duties of individuals comes from God to the people and through the people to those whom the people choose to represent them. … For them there could be no divorcing of law and morals. Morals was a broader field, but the vital force of one was the vivifying, preserving force of the other.
To fully appreciate the meaning of Declaration and the U.S. Constitution that was created to secure man's natural rights, it is important to understand the difference between the concepts of freedom, liberty and license.
What, then, is freedom?
Freedom transcends matter and biological dimensions. Freedom pertains to the spiritual. However, "spiritual" is not a synonym for "the supernatural." Man, made in the image of God, is spiritual by his very nature; and because of this spiritual nature he is free. In short, freedom is not something superadded to man. Freedom is not a material commodity conferred by the state upon an already existent entity. For if it were, the state would be equally able to abolish freedom by decree or legislative enactment.
Freedom is rather innate; and because of this, it is inalienable: No state can rightfully usurp freedom.
By nature, man is endowed with a spiritual power known as the intellect. With his intellect, he reasons; thus, man is a rational animal. From reason springs law: Law is an ordination, a rule of action. Law presupposes a moral legislator (God) or a civil legislator.
Also, from reason springs freedom: Freedom is liberty within the law. As philosopher John Locke — who influenced the Founders — observed, "Where there is no law, there is no freedom."
Freedom does not mean, as godless secularists would have it, an absence of external restraints. To act outside the law is to be an outlaw, to do whatever one pleases is not liberty but license.
One is not free, that is, one does not have license to burn down a police precinct because one enjoys a bonfire. Nor is one free to shout in a crowded theater, "fire!" if there is none. How free would a person be to walk on Main Street if others were equally free to shoot anyone they saw there? Freedom, as the 19th century British historian, Lord Acton, put it, "is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought."
Liberty, then, implies law; liberty is not opposed to law. Liberty and law have the same source, reason.
Liberty also implies freedom of choice; and choice presupposes a knowledge of what is to be chosen. Here, as elsewhere, man's innate intellect is the source of freedom.
If freedom and license are confused, democracy becomes a farce. For the premise which permits man to be so free as to do whatever he may please, can lead only to the conclusion that no one is really free.
Given the opportunity to develop, an individual man can mature not only physically, but intellectually, as well. And as man matures and becomes aware that freedom is rooted in the intellect, and that every person by nature has an intellect, there comes the realization that no man can be subservient to another, that all are equally free, and that together all men can travel the road of life with equal rights and genuine dignity.
Enjoy your freedom and liberty this Fourth of July weekend!
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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