freedomconscienceThis post is the second part in a series. In the first post, What Is A Republic?, we considered the definition of a republic. In this post, we will consider the principles upon which the founders based our republic.

Upon What Principles Did The Founders Base Our Government?

There is a truism that is worth examining in this context. In the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater said the following.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)
Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can’t legislate morality.

You Can’t Legislate Morality?

There are various points of view on the truth of that statement.

  • In Who said you can’t legislate morality?, Pat Boone observes we base our laws upon our moral beliefs.

    Let’s look at this idea that you can’t legislate morality. We, through our elected representatives, did declare murder illegal, didn’t we? In spite of the fact that it’s one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible? Is that legislating morality, even religion?

  • In Why we can’t not legislate moralityMicah Watson explains the problem.

    It is of course true that some laws will be better conceived than others, and many may fail entirely to achieve their purpose. But that they have a purpose, and that the purpose includes at least an implicit moral element, is incontrovertible. One need only ask of any law or action of government, “What is the law for?” The answer at some point will include a conception of what is good for the community in which the law holds. The inversion of the question makes the point even more clearly. What would provide a rationale for a law or governmental action apart from a moral purpose?

  • In YOU CAN’T LEGISLATE MORALITY, David J. Stewart argues:

    You simply CANNOT legislate morality. There are well over 1,000,000 laws on the books in America now, and crime is only getting worse.

When Goldwater said “you can’t legislate morality,” was he saying we do not base our laws upon our moral beliefs? Not likely. What apparently concerned him is that our leaders should not use the Law to goad the People into believing certain moral principles. Effectively, that is the problem with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the iterations of the law that followed it. While it may be perfectly legal for a company to hire employees, unless that company hires “enough” employees from certain protected minority groups, our laws presume a thought crime and punish those immoral thinkers for wrongful discrimination. Thus, instead of just protecting the rights of racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women; our rulers now design our “civil rights” laws to compel the People to adopt certain moral beliefs.

What Morality?

3rd President of the United States

Because Socialist Democrats insist upon misquoting President Thomas Jefferson (see OUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS DETERMINE OUR BELIEFS ABOUT LAW), there is a notion that we must place a wall of separation between church and state. Nonetheless, even though Socialist Democrats love to condemn Social Conservatives for trying to legislate their Christian values, these same people spend absurd amounts of the public’s money legislating their own values. Therefore, we raise the question. Upon what principles (moral principles) did the founders base our government? As it happens, we do not have to guess. Every 4th of July we celebrate these principles. Enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, they form our nation’s creedal belief.

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.

Before the United States, no other nation had affirmed such a creed. Yet during the American Revolution, men risked both their lives and their fortunes to defend the unalienable rights they believed their Creator had given them. From where did they get this belief in God-given rights? The Bible.

The Equality Of All Men Before God

How do we interpret that famous line in the Declaration of Independence? When it is obvious that we are not all equally capable, what does it mean when we say “that all men are created equal”? Some say the founders meant that we are all equal before the Law.  Rubbish!

Galatians 3:26-28 Good News Translation (GNT)

26 It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. 27 You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself. 28 So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus.

We are all God’s children, and He shows no favoritism.  It is to Him we belong, and it is He who gives us our existence and endowed us with Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Therefore, out of respect for Him, we are obligated to respect each other’s rights.

The Rights To Life and Liberty

The Declaration of Independence goes on to say “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” As imperfect, fallen beings, we constitute the greatest threat to each other’s rights. It is as the Apostle Paul said when he quoted verses from the Old Testament in Romans 3:9-20, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”  Therefore, we strive to protect ourselves from each other. In fact, it is so that we might know our own sinfulness that God gave the Jews the Mosaic Code, including The Ten Commandments.

When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded with both the first and the second (Matthew 22:34-40).

  • “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”
  •  “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Men and women who love each other do not harm each other; they protect each other.

The Right To The Pursuit Of Happiness

When Jefferson wrote of the right to the pursuit of Happiness, what was he talking about? Would it not have made more sense to speak of the right to own property? In a secularized world-view, yes. In the Christian world-view of Jefferson’s era, no.

Jefferson and the educated men of his era were classically educated. They would have been well familiar with Aristotle’s writings, including THE ETHICS OF ARISTOTLE. When we pursue Happiness as Aristotle thought of it, we are determining how we want to live — what kind of person we want to be.

Here is what the Introduction to THE ETHICS OF ARISTOTLE says about Aristotle’s thoughts on happiness.

We must, however, remember that the production of good character is not the end of either individual or state action: that is the aim of the one and the other because good character is the indispensable condition and chief determinant of happiness, itself the goal of all human doing. The end of all action, individual or collective, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. There is, Aristotle insists, no difference of kind between the good of one and the good of many or all. The sole difference is one of amount or scale. This does not mean simply that the State exists to secure in larger measure the objects of degree which the isolated individual attempts, but is too feeble, to secure without it. On the contrary, it rather insists that whatever goods society alone enables a man to secure have always had to the individual—whether he realised it or not—the value which, when so secured, he recognises them to possess. The best and happiest life for the individual is that which the State renders possible, and this it does mainly by revealing to him the value of new objects of desire and educating him to appreciate them. To Aristotle or to Plato the State is, above all, a large and powerful educative agency which gives the individual increased opportunities of self-development and greater capacities for the enjoyment of life.

Given Aristotle’s thoughts on Happiness, Jefferson and his colleagues would have thought the right to pursue Happiness involved far more than just the right to own property. To pursue Happiness also involves freedom of religion — freedom of conscience. Therefore, what the Continental Congress affirmed in the Declaration of Independence is that the pursuit of Happiness is an individual right, not the province of government. That is, it is not the government’s job to tell us what to believe or to “educate” us.

To Be Continued in Part 3

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