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Humanize Independence Day and Renewed Vigor

Happy Independence Day!

As America marks July 4th, it’s worth taking a few moments to pause in gratitude for the Declaration of Independence and its lasting importance for what America’s framers recognized about the human person, the source of human dignity, and the nature of human rights.

Clarke Forsythe, Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life (and a colleague and friend) writes in National Review today on why the Declaration still matters for all Americans:

Amid our national dialogue over race and justice, my family’s reading of the Declaration of Independence will be even more meaningful than usual this Fourth of July. At the core of the Declaration — the founding political document of America — is the principle that the consent of the governed is the foundation of the moral legitimacy of government.

That principle follows from three preceding propositions in the preamble: “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. … ” By appealing to self-evident truths, the American Founders relied on an extensive philosophical heritage which affirmed certain moral truths that flow logically from their premises once the terms of the proposition are understood. While a belief in moral truth is dismissed today for promoting intolerance, the foundation of tolerance is not moral skepticism, which fosters the will to power, but the humble recognition of transcendent truths that bind all of us, as human beings, equally.

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

We’re living through a turbulent season in American history. But we’ve worked through such times in our past by embracing the sort of wisdom upon which Clarke Forsythe reflects. If we’re all heirs to the Declaration and the Constitution, as Martin Luther King, Jr. believed, then that means that we share in a continuing responsibility to strive together in realizing the ambitious and evergreen challenge inherent in their vision of the human person — in making ideals real, together.

If we look squarely at what Americans have long believed about the nature of human flourishing, we discover the guideposts that will see us through this season of discontent: We believe we are created equal. We believe that achieving and sustaining human flourishing requires a social order rooted in justice. And we believe that justice requires equality not only in principle but also in the experiences of our everyday lives.

While we all struggle at times to remember that we are all members of one human family. Independence Day can be a special occasion to look back proudly at what we have achieved together even as we look ahead and with renewed vigor to the challenges of tomorrow.

Tom Shakely

Research Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Tom Shakely is a Research Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism where he focuses on human dignity, human rights, and law and policy. Tom has spoken on human rights issues at the United Nations, testified to the District of Columbia City Council on conscience rights, and advised on testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. House of Representatives.