Declaring Independence from God: A Very Bad Idea

Secular Libertarians are working hard to make the case that their worldview “can fix what’s wrong with America.” In their book The Declaration of Independents, authors Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch argue for a Libertarian ethic based on the Declaration of Independence, a document they describe as “the most influential English-language formulation of liberty written during the 1700s” (ix). They focus on what they consider to be “the refreshing blast of radical Enlightenment thought contained within” the following “three dozen words” (ix):

“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.”

I was surprised that the authors would begin their defense of their worldview by an appeal to this section of the Declaration that specifically links Inalienable rights” with a “Creator” but make no reference to him thereafter.

A Creator assumes the existence of God. The existence of God presupposes a law-giver, and yet secular Libertarians almost never reference God in defense of their worldview. They can’t and be consistent.

It’s one thing to appeal to a Creator in defense of inalienable rights and the undefined “pursuit of happiness” to keep politicians from ruling our lives, but it’s another thing to ignore the Creator when it comes to moral particulars considering that the Declaration also states that the Creator is “the Supreme Judge of the world.”

When Gillespie and Welch were interviewed by John Stossel, they pushed for the acceptance of “alternative lifestyles,” including homosexual marriage based, I suspect, on non-governmental interference and the God-given right to pursue happiness as long as this pursuit doesn’t hurt anyone else. But if God was the Supreme Judge of a nation like Great Britain and a ruler like King George III in 1776, then why isn’t He the judge of all of us as well? It’s one thing to make the case, as secular Libertarians do, that the State is under moral and jurisdictional restraint in governing in the civil realm, but it’s another thing to exclude individuals from the same moral scrutiny in what they do personally.

While God gets a nod in The Declaration of Independents, He’s never mentioned again except when the authors make the point that America is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. But with all of America’s religious diversity, it seems that religion is irrelevant in shaping any national moral consensus and has led to “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

Every signer of the Declaration of Independence, including its author Thomas Jefferson, believed that homosexuality was against “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” a phrase found in the Declaration. Even the Supreme Court acknowledged that the pursuit of happiness and inalienable rights did not include the moral or civil acceptance of homosexuality. In Bowers vs. Hardwick (1986) the Supreme Court concluded:

Sodomy was a criminal offense at common law and was forbidden by the laws of the original 13 States when they ratified the Bill of Rights. In 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, all but 5 of the 37 States in the Union had criminal sodomy laws.1

So if you are a Libertarian, please don’t try to make your case for homosexuality and homosexual marriage by an appeal to the Declaration of Independence. It can’t be done. In addition, to remove God from the discussion won’t help either. Once God is gone, everything becomes permissible and possible, whether it’s consented to or not.

And one last thing. Don’t try to make the case that the Declaration of Independence is not one of our nation’s organic laws. In West’s edition of the U.S. Code, the section on “The Organic Laws of the United States of America” contains such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Constitution incorporates the Declaration of Independence into itself by these words: “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.” The last phrase is a direct reference to the Declaration of Independence.

I’m always amazed that secularists appeal to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, written 15 years after the Constitution was drafted, and it’s use of the phrase “separation of church and state,” but they won’t acknowledge the Declaration which is actually a part of the Constitution and was also penned by Jefferson.

  1. Bowers vs. Hardwick (1986), 478 US 186, 92 L Ed 2d 140, 106 S Ct 2841, reh den (US) 92 L Ed 2d 779, 107 S. Ct 29., 147‑48. The plaintiffs in the Hardwick case were caught engaging in the act of sodomy only after the police entered the house on an unrelated case. []