Law News and Tips

About Freedom

Fred Vilbig - Thursday, June 30, 2016

With the Fourth of July upon us, it seems fitting to say something about the Declaration of Independence. Although people talk about it, I really wonder how many know what it says. People have some vague idea what’s in the Bill of Rights, and maybe even something about the Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence is kind of the forgotten document. It’s basically a list of grievances against the King of England.

Many of us have probably heard the opening of the second paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” During the 1850s, many Southern politicians denounced the Declaration for that very phrase. They argued that it should be discarded. One even called that phrase in particular a “self-evident lie.”

Abraham Lincoln took another view of the Declaration. He felt that it was the lens through which all of our other governing documents – the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – should be viewed. It is as if those later documents were just a continuation or elaboration on the ideas set out in the Declaration.

I think that the first paragraph of the Declaration is just as important as any other section, and maybe even more so for our times. In it, Jefferson wrote, and the Second Continental Congress affirmed, that our right to separate from England and exist as a separate nation was based on “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God….”

Freedom is not licensed to do whatever we want. We are not “free” to kill, to steal, to harm others, or to drive 100 miles an hour in a neighborhood. Our freedom has limits.

According to the Founding Fathers, our freedom is based on natural law, which is universal – it applies equally to all people. These truths are not true for some people, but not all. These truths are true for all or we have no reasonable basis for our freedom. These truths are not subject to the vicissitudes of swiftly changing public opinion.

It seems as if recent court decisions and presidential fiats have been based more on public opinion than on natural law. Our rights are being denigrated by the very institutions created to protect them. I would suggest that even for those who rejoice in the recent rulings, this is dangerous ground. Look at history. Public opinion can change on a whim. It can turn on you quickly. If our laws are based on the tyranny of public opinion, all of our “freedoms” are at risk from the mob. It’s something to think about.

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