In my WND column last Friday, I pointed out that “every assertion of a fundamental human right necessarily relies in turn upon an assertion about what is right.” Today this fact is more often than not ignored, even by Americans who profess to be ardent defenders of the liberty America’s founders intended to establish and preserve. Madison succinctly summarized the founders’ understanding when he said that “Justice is the end of government, it is the end of civil society. …” But the Declaration of Independence makes clear that the end or aim of the institution of government is to secure God-endowed unalienable rights. (“To secure these rights governments are instituted among men. …”) Justice is thus identified with the security (safe existence) of unalienable rights, because both are identified as the singular end or aim of government. (If A=C and B=C, then A=B.)
This appears even more plainly when we recall that the root of justice (Latin “iustus”) is right (Latin “ius” or “ious”). But in the context of the Declaration’s stated purpose for government, God endows right (i.e., He provides the “income” that establishes it; He determines what goes into it; He is the source of its conceptual substance or meaning). In the Declaration America’s founders declare that the colonies “are, and of right ought to be free and independent States. …” Their free condition is thus identified as a matter or right, a consequence of the substance or meaning which God endows their nature. By invoking their natural right they invoke the authority of the Creator, which is its source and substantiation.
Since the founders’ assertion of freedom invokes the authority of the Creator, the validity of the assertion depends on its conformity with the substance or meaning of right established by that authority. But this dependency has a consequence. It restricts the assertion of freedom within boundaries determined by this conformity to God-endowed right. Freedom is therefore not an unlimited potential for action. The assertion of freedom is valid only for action in conformity with the substance or meaning of right as established (endowed) by the Creator.
By this straightforward logic Abraham Lincoln was bound to conclude that one cannot have the right to do what is wrong. If it is wrong, for instance, to murder innocent people, one cannot claim to do so as a matter of right. If it is wrong, by enslaving them, to violate their God-endowed liberty, one cannot claim to do so as a matter of right.
Of course, the logic that limits the assertion of freedom in view of God-endowed right holds true only in the presence of the Creator God, which is to say only where people acknowledge and act upon His existence and authority. Without this acknowledgment, there is no basis in principle for limiting the assertion of freedom. Such limits can then only be ascertained in fact, which is to say as the result of action, as a consequence of whatever happens. Where God is not admitted, whatever is, is right. Whatever works must be accepted as right. Whatever succeeds; whatever conquers; whatever prevails, is the final arbiter of justice. This means, however, that there is no justice but the good of the stronger; no standard of judgment but the survival of the fittest; no hope for mercy but the whim of those who happen to be in power. What then becomes of the conquered; the weak; the powerless? Whatever their rulers dictate, that’s what.
This is, of course, why Americans who claim to care about rights and justice for all cannot logically accept the false doctrine that says that politics and government must be conducted without reference to the existence and authority of the Creator. An authoritative act of creation is the indispensable point of departure for the logic that supports the understanding of right on which the liberty and self-government of the people depend, whether as individuals or as a whole.
In light of this fact, there is something pathetically distressing about the way opponents are framing the issue in the fight against the Obama faction’s bid to force people to pay for health insurance that supports the provision of abortifacient contraceptives. They speak as if it is just an issue of “religious freedom” or “freedom of conscience.” But this can only be true if the action prescribed by religion or conscience does not itself involve a violation of right. Which of the protesters against the health mandate would support the notion that, out of respect for religious freedom, government is obliged to permit the “honor killings” sanctioned by Islamic shariah law? Which of them would say that government must exempt from prosecution under criminal law people who wish to practice child sacrifice or cannibalism, neither of which is unexampled in the history of religious ritual? On the contrary, they would and should protest against any government that would neglect to prohibit and prosecute these fatal lapses of the honor that is due to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Yet, presumably without meaning to do so, they are setting the stage for just such “honor killing” religious exemptions.
Prior to the Civil War, Americans appear to have had a more consistent understanding of the issue of right involved in laws and government policies that force people to act in support of wrongdoing. When the Whigs and Democrats agreed to pass the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Americans were not content to cower behind “exemptions” that would hide their consciences from moral complicity while ignoring the ongoing and expanding evil of slavery. Instead the Act fueled more adamant opposition to slavery and open refusal to abide by the unjust laws that abetted it, and increased support for the network of resistance (the so-called Underground Railroad) that directly assailed the bulwark of slavery by interfering with the captivity of the slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act hastened the demise of the fatally compromising Whig Party and the rise of Republicans who opposed slavery in principle. It was their anti-slavery banner that Abraham Lincoln eventually carried into the White House.
Because every assertion of true freedom involves the assertion of right, every violation of right is an assault upon true freedom. It is a clarion call to do what conscience demands, rather than beg from the perpetrators of wrong the freedom to stand aside as they enthrone it. As Americans we are called to be true to the principles and example of the generations that first recognized and then, with costly self-sacrifice, vindicated the assertion of righteous liberty. We are called to reject the lawless imposition of wrong even when, by specious usurpation, it claims the status of law and wields the power of unjust government. Our proper stand is not for the freedom to live without complicity in evil. Rather we are called to vindicate the God-endowed understanding of right that condemns the evil and demands, once and for all, now and forever, that it be banished from the catalogue of actions fit for a people that is, and of right ought to be, as free as God intends.