Is it a good idea for students to recite from the Declaration of Independence in class? Some New Jersey state lawmakers don't think so. For them, America's founding principles are too hot to handle.
At issue is a bill, passed by the assembly and now pending before the senate, that would require the Garden State's 1.2 million school children to recite part of the famous preamble of the Declaration before the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.
Here is the passage students would have to recite:
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, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
In the assembly debate, critics denounced the Declaration as outmoded, racist, and sexist. Several legislators seized on the phrase "all men are created equal," arguing that it leaves women and minorities in the lurch.
No, it doesn't. "Men" means mankind, the human race. The Founders wrote at length about "rights of mankind," "rights of humanity," and "human rights." They believed — and they said — that the natural rights described in the Declaration applied to all people at all times.
In fact, not one Founder denied that blacks or women were human beings. Alexander Hamilton summed up the Founders' general view: "Natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race" — that means men and women, blacks and whites.
True, the Founders did not share modern feminism's view of women. They thought that men and women have equally important but different roles in society. For one thing, the Founders thought that both men and women would find their interests and happiness in that core institution of a free and civilized society: the family.
Another opponent likened the Declaration's preamble to a "secular prayer." Prayer is, of course, banned from the classroom. It may be that, for liberals, the Founders' words tread too closely to one of the great political taboos of the day3/4whether government should promote respect for God.
Everyone knows America is based on a separation between church and state. That means there must be no sect designated as the official religion of the country.
But America is not based on a separation of God from state. How could it be, when God is the source of the rights that government is bound to secure and protect?
The Declaration of Independence contains four distinct references to God: He is the author of the "laws of . . .God"; the "Creator" who "endowed" us with our inalienable rights; "the Supreme Judge of the world"; and "Divine Providence." Americans declared their independence, "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions."
The Founders' view of religious liberty actually encourages government promotion of religion — as long as it supports "the laws of nature and of nature's God," which is the foundation of the rational liberty that is the essence of America's greatness. That poses a big problem for modern liberals, who believe that any mention of God in a public school is an unconstitutional "establishment of religion."
Our job today is to recover the truth about the Declaration of Independence. First, we need to know what the Declaration says. Reciting the words will help.
But students must also know what the words mean. Public school students in California and Nevada are required by law to read the Declaration, the Constitution, selections from the Federalist Papers and important historical speeches. California's law passed over the vehement opposition of Democrats, who said such a requirement "contradicts freedom (and) by its nature is calculated to teach fascism, not democracy."
Maybe that is the real reason why New Jersey's Declaration bill has been met with so much hostility. If students were to learn what the Declaration means, they might actually take it seriously.