Today is July 4th, Independence Day. It is the day we celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, the foundational document of both the United States of America and almost every human rights campaign launched since. In defining the terms by which a people can justly reject the rule of a governing power, the writers of the Declaration led by Thomas Jefferson claimed:
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.
These enumerated rights are natural rights, pre-legal and pre-constitutional. The function of legitimate government is to recognize these rights and develop systems to protect them. No government or system of man gives you or me the right to life. No other human being grants us the right to liberty or the right to pursue our flourishing. Merely Human Ministries shares our own founding principles on our homepage and among those is that We Are Merely Human. Not a single one of us has been granted a privileged position by which we can rule on which categories human beings deserve life. We don’t have that authority.
Some pro-choice advocates, including certain Supreme Court Justices, reject the idea of endowed rights in favor of a system where we all await our governing powers to decide what we are and are not allowed to do up to and including continuing to live free and reproduce. At the same time, they declare rights to privacy and rights to access abortion that the government must recognize. They petition foreign governments to recognize a woman’s right to choose. They clothe their arguments in natural rights language. It is hard to believe that, should Roe vs. Wade be overruled, any pro-choice advocate would stand down saying, “Well the government no longer grants us a right to get an abortion so that right doesn’t exist.” They see abortion access as part of their rights to freedom and happiness.
The problem with that understanding of natural rights is that the order of the enumeration matters. Each right is dependent on the one previously listed. The right to Liberty is meaningless without the protection of our fundamental right to Life. The pursuit of Happiness is impossible without the protection of our Liberty to freely pursue human flourishing. The Right to Life cannot be put in conflict with the others. The latter rights depend upon the former. As my friend Professor Mike Adams said in his debate with abortionist Dr. Willie Parker at UNC – Wilmington:
But you cannot pit the right to life against the right to liberty or against the pursuit of happiness. Why? Because there is no moral right to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Even if it makes you freer. Even if it makes you happier.
Because if we did that, that would negate all rights for everyone including the right to life itself.
Today we celebrate in the United States the ratification of a Declaration that appealed to something the framers of this country believed to be self-evident, all men are Created equal and endowed with rights. No paper, document, or government grants those rights. They are ours by virtue of what we are. Many of those founders clearly understood a narrower definition of the term “all men” than we do today, but that only serves to underscore the glaring truth the document articulates. The equality of men in the broadest since of that term, every human being, could not be bound by the limited perspective of any other group of men. It breaks free and lights a fuse that sees freedom recognized, not granted but recognized, for African slaves, women denied a voice in their government, immigrants from foreign lands yearning to breathe free, minority groups abused by repressive systems, and unborn human beings destroyed before they can enjoy the most basic rights shared by us all. Independence Day reminds us the when a government fails to recognize those rights, it is our job to make a principled stand in favor of those endowed rights against whatever forces seek to quash them.
Every human being ought to be treated with dignity and respect. Every human being has a right to live, be free and pursue happiness in the noblest sense of that idea, the pursuit of human flourishing. Happy Independence Day from Merely Human Ministries.