Point of view
July 3, 1992
MOST IMPORTANT DOCUMENT
Overton Love Turner II
"The greatest glory of a free people is to transmit that freedom
to their children." Harvard
This Saturday, July 4, we Americans will celebrate again the adoption
of the most important political document in the history of mankind, the
Declaration of Independence.
It is the instrument that not only affirmed our national political liberty,
but also our freedom as individuals. It enunciated the freedom of all
men, in every space and every time. It made the United States the paradigm
of liberty, and America the paragon of self-determination.
It is the first and the primal law to be enacted by these United States
of America. It ruled first of all that the law of the British crown and
Great Britain was dissolved and that only law enacted by the United States
would enlist our allegiance.
It ruled in the second part that the law of the United States would be
based on three cardinal decrees: (1) the laws of nature have given us
the right to national independence; (2) the inalienable rights of all
men, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, shall
be secure; and (3) the form of government In the United States shall be
ordained by the consent of the people.
It is our first law and in truth the first preface to the Constitution.
It made viable, both in reason and in law, the Constitution of the United
States. Certainly, it is the harbinger of our ethos and the substance
of our hope.
America was the first nation to have a document of political purpose,
the first to be established on scientific concepts (the laws of nature),
and the first without a state religion. All three of these notions created
a condition tailor-made for the founding of our great democratic republic.
This does not mean, however, as some insist, that since our government
was founded in large measure on the philosophy of John Locke and the science
of Isaac Newton and advocated the separation of church and state, that
America is a humanistic and secular nation. Nothing could be more erroneous.
The only stereotype that the Constitution allows is that we are a nation
of law. Our government is forbidden to advocate either religion or secularism.
We are under law to provide only freedom to each citizen, who alone decides
what he or she will believe.
This rubric that each person is to decide his or her belief system falls
under the right of pursuit of happiness. It led the Founders to create
a wall of separation between state and church.
The consequences of this notion, initiated because of their experience
and common sense, has proven its wisdom. It has prevented our federal
government from coercing the church into serving the political ambitions
of government and has prevented the church from using state power for
It is a mistake to conclude, however, that building a wall of separation
between church and state implies that the Founders were hostile to religion.
Many of them were church members. Most of them accepted the existence
And while they would not allow any religious metaphysics to be recognized
by the government or any religious test to be made, they felt it proper
to affirm that God was the author of human freedom and dignity.
It should be noted that the Declaration makes mention of God four times.
God is called: (1) Nature's God, (2) the Creator of men, (3) Supreme Judge
of the world, and (4) Divine Providence. It appears that in the Founders'
view the power disclosed in the cosmos was no blind or disinterested energy,
but a power of intelligence and purpose.
Therefore, universal law regulated the movements of the celestial bodies,
imposed order on the flora and fauna, and determined the functions of
mental processes. Most of the Founders felt that this system was revealed
to mankind through the correspondence of what they called the laws of
nature or natural law.
The flaws of nature are by no means simple. They are philosophically extensive
and complicated. But they are the foundation of the Declaration of independence
and of the American ideal. In this sense one could say America is not
a place, but an idea.
The Founding Fathers have endowed us with a treasure of rare magnificence.
Let us celebrate and appreciate it, by a resolve in our lives to esteem
the life of others, to maintain liberty by respecting the right of others
to disagree with us, and by allowing others "to find that truth which
is true for them." That is what it is really all about.
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