It was 238 years ago, on July 4, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. It marked the birth of this nation which, under God, was destined for world leadership. Of course, the Declaration was only the first step: Great Britain was not going to give up its 13 colonies without a terrible and fierce fight that was to last for six years, and took the lives of 4,435 American patriots in battle at a then unimaginable cost of $104,000,000. We often forget that, in declaring independence from an earthly power, our founders made a forthright declaration of dependence upon Almighty God. The Declaration, written principally by Thomas Jefferson, acknowledges that “all men are created equal and are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The closing words of the Declaration solemnly declare, “With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” What kind of men were our founders? Twenty-two were lawyers and judges. Eighteen were merchants and businessmen. Fourteen were farmers and large plantation owners. These were all men of means and education. Seven were educated at Harvard, four at Yale, four at the College of William and Mary, and three at Princeton. John Witherspoon, the only clergyman, was president of what is today Princeton University, and George Wythe was a professor at the College of William and Mary, whose former student was Thomas Jefferson. Dr. Benjamin Rush, considered the father of American medicine, also started the Sunday School movement in the United States. Dr. Rush graduated from Princeton at the age of 14, and then completed his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Charles Carroll began his formal education at the age of 8, when he was sent to attend Jesuits’ College at St. Omer, France. He graduated from the College of Louis the Grande in France at the age of 17. Afterwards, he apprenticed as a lawyer in London. Of the 56 signers, 21 were 40 years of age, or younger, with the youngest, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, was 26 years old. The British marked every signer for treason, and each became the object of vicious British manhunts. Space does not permit me to tell the often tragic story of many of the Declaration’s signers, but a short biography of each of the signers is available here.
In addition to referring to the Creator and Divine Providence, the Declaration also appeals to “Nature’s God” and “the Supreme Judge of the World.” A number of years later, when the Constitution was published, something new had been created: a system of self-government by the consent of the governed. Our founders created a constitutional republic with individual liberty to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, elected representatives and limited government. Our founders created a republic in which the power to govern was checked and balanced by procedures designed to stop tyranny in its tracks. In contrast to what many believe, our founders did not create a democracy, but rather a republic. They knew Plato’s warning that unrestricted democracy must logically result in a dictatorship. They knew from the study of Greek history that a fanatical majority can deprive the individual of his rights, his life, and his property. They had all studied Roman history, where after many centuries, the Roman republic gave way to the “bread and circuses” and the rise of the corrupt despotism of the Roman emperors that lasted until the collapse of the Roman Empire. The founders firmly believed that the republican government they were creating could last only if it was rooted in biblical morality and religion. John Adams said, “A republic can only be supported by pure religion or austere morals.” George Washington said, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” Indeed! As early as 1811, the Supreme Court of New York, in a decision by Chief Justice Kent, for whom the Kent Law School in Chicago is named, stated, “The people of New York, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice” and then continues, “we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity.” People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 294-295.
Notwithstanding the assertions to the contrary of Mr. Obama, a former lecturer in constitutional law, in 1892, our Supreme Court, after giving example after example of the foundational importance of Christianity in public life from the discovery of the New World by Columbus throughout the history of United States, declared:
This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation . . . we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity . . . . we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth . . . These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass or organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.
Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 465-71 (1892). Emphasis added.
In 1931, the Supreme Court again reaffirmed its earlier view: “We are a Christian people . . . and acknowledge with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.” U.S. v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605, 625 (1931). In 1952, the liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, writing for the Supreme Court in the decision of Zorach v. Clauson, wrote, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses . . . We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility of religion.” Zorach, 343 U. S. 306, 313-15. Of course, over the past six decades, this view has perhaps now vanished. To almost any observer, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the official policy of both the federal government and its courts today is state-sponsored atheism that holds an anti-Christian animus. Of course, the concept of a secular or atheistic state did not exist in 1776, when the Declaration was published, or in 1787, when the Constitution was adopted. To read the Constitution as a charter for a secular or atheistic state is to misread our American history radically. Our Constitution was designed to perpetuate an order based upon the Bible, biblical ethics, and a Judeo-Christian worldview. At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Dr. Franklin, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” Mr. Franklin famously and wisely responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Independence Day 2014 should not solely be about fireworks, parades, and a cold drink on a hot summer day. Rather, it is a celebration of a system of self-government by the consent of the governed. It is about a constitutional republic with individual liberty, elected representatives and limited government. For this Independence Day celebration, I will read again the Declaration of Independence. If I read it slowly, it might take 15 minutes. If you haven’t read the Declaration in a while, you might be surprised at how many parallels exist with our day. Happy Independence Day, Everyone! Yes, Hobby Lobby won their case at the Supreme Court 5-4. For this, we are thankful to God for His mercy. But this case also reminds us that our religious liberty hangs on a very thin thread.