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On Memorial Day, we honor U.S. soldiers who have died in war. But only if we understand the principles and ideals for which they died do we truly honor them.

Love, freedom, dignity and sacrifice — these are the essence of Memorial Day. Together, they form the higher cause for which men have been willing to give their lives.

America was founded on Biblical truths, including that man was created in God’s image. As such, man has intrinsic worth and dignity and is entitled to freedom. Man should be free to honor God’s greatest commandments: to love God and to love his neighbors.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

“Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).

But the Bible also teaches that man is fallen. To be able to enjoy freedom, man must be protected from other fallen men. Unfettered freedom inevitably results in the strong oppressing the weak. That is why government must be invested with sufficient power to establish the rule of law and provide for the common defense. This is known as ordered liberty.

But government must also be restricted because those in government — the ruling class — are also fallen human beings who are subject to the further corrupting influence of power. As Madison observed, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

The Framers, then, believing that man was created in God’s image and was therefore entitled to freedom and dignity, sought to establish a government of limited powers as the best means of securing his liberties. So they created a federalist system, which divided governmental powers between national and state governments.

They further divided the powers of the federal government by separating them among three coequal branches: the legislative, executive and judicial, and imposing an intricate scheme of checks and balances among them. And they included the Bill of Rights to protect people from tyrannical acts of government.

Almost all of the Framers also believed in absolute biblical standards of right and wrong. Author M. Stanton Evans notes that these absolute standards provide the basis for affirming the dignity of individuals created in God’s image. After all, God’s laws are not rules designed to restrict our behavior for his sadistic pleasure or because he doesn’t want us to enjoy life. Rather, by these laws God ensures our dignity, respect, freedom and well being.

By contrast, the overwhelming majority of nations in world history have rejected absolute truths in favor of moral relativism. This rejection of absolute moral standards, according to Evans, has led to a devaluating of human dignity with a resulting collapse of freedom and rise of tyranny.

The Communists and Nazis, for example, paid lip service to the ideal of freedom but the societies they created ended in abject tyranny because they rejected moral absolutes, which led to the devaluing of the dignity of people. If people are not entitled to dignity and respect, they obviously are not deserving of freedom. Thus, societies founded on moral relativism have invariably ended up denying the very human freedoms and rights upon which they claim to be founded.

Our Founders understood another thing: the viability of our constitutional system would depend on the morality of the body politic. Washington wrote, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Memorial Day is not just about honoring our war dead, it is an occasion to soberly reflect on the founding principles of this great nation. Our soldiers sacrificed their lives not so that we could be the most powerful and imperialistic nation in the world; not to enable us to enjoy cradle-to-grave security, but so that we could be free.

Though God created us with dignity and intends for us to live in freedom, history has proven that freedom is a precious commodity. Unless we regain appreciation for our freedom, return to our moral roots and rededicate ourselves to our founding principles, our honored dead will have died in vain.

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