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“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.” – The Declaration of Independence
This sentence from the Declaration of Independence is one of the most quoted and recognizable statements in all our nation’s founding documents.
When the words were written in 1776, the sentence provided a foundation on which the new nation would be created. It established a common set of principles on which to build a new society. It identified a set of bedrock, unassailable truths.
While this statement was written nearly 250 years ago and continues to be referenced today, our society perpetually overlooks and fails to adhere to one of the central themes and principles it presents: human dignity.
Dignity in the Declaration
According to Dr. Daniel P. Sulmasy, the Acting Director at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, “intrinsic dignity” is the worth or value that humans have simply for being human. We do not need to do anything to receive or earn intrinsic dignity, and it can never be taken away by any individual or group.
As Christians, we believe that every human being has extraordinary intrinsic dignity because we are all made in the image of God.
Genesis 1:27 speaks to this truth, saying, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (NKJV)
Within the statement in the Declaration of Independence, the language our founders used establishes a theme of extraordinary intrinsic dignity.
Likewise, our founding fathers addressed the concept of equality. “All men are created equal.” Like dignity, there is no action that needs to be taken to earn equality. The phrase is stated as a fact that as humans, we are all created equal.
Not only are all men created equal, but they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “endow” is “to provide with something freely or naturally.” In other words, like dignity, there is nothing that any individual must do to receive the certain rights that follow. They are all freely provided by God.
With “unalienable rights,” the founders referenced and articulated rights that cannot be taken away. They are the starting point to every other right that society might recognize or provide.
Taken together, the central theme of the sentence is that we all have dignity that comes from God and, therefore, are granted certain rights that can never be taken away.
The three unalienable rights that our founders listed are: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Listing the “right to life” first again points to human dignity. If all human life is valuable, equal, and created in the image of God, then a right to life must come first.
Without first the right to life, other rights are irrelevant. Without first the right to life, no other right matters.
Unfortunately, it is this very principle of dignity and a right to life that our society so often overlooks or corrupts.
As I have argued in recent blog posts (“We Stand for Dignity” and “Re-writing History Won’t End Racism”), injustices such as abortion and racism remain in our society because so many fail to recognize the dignity of every human life.
When society overlooks the principles of human dignity as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, other ideals begin to take over. Instead of protecting the rights of all humans, society only becomes concerned about certain individuals or groups of people. Instead of acknowledging the dignity of all human life, society chooses to attribute dignity to some but not others. Instead of honoring “intrinsic dignity,” our culture succumbs to believing in “attributed dignity,” which promotes the fatal concept that humans have the right to assign value to other humans.
We see this play out with the American abortion genocide every day. Society has taken upon itself the right to decide that preborn children do not have the same dignity and right to life as born humans.
Just a few weeks ago, we saw the Supreme Court fatally promote and push this humanist, anti-American ideal of allowing society to play God. Led by a Chief Justice who systemically shows he is more concerned with the reputation of the court than with what is actually right and wrong, the court ruled that a Louisiana law that placed restrictions on abortion providers was unconstitutional.
In defending the ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the restrictions would “place substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking an abortion” and would “leave thousands of Louisiana women with no practical means of obtaining a safe, legal abortion.”
Throughout the court’s 100-plus page opinion, the justices express grave concern for the health and well-being of women seeking an abortion and speculate on how much of a burden it would be for women to receive an abortion under the Louisiana law.
Tragically, nowhere does the court express concern for the dignity or the right to life for the preborn child. Even among the justices who voted to uphold the law – all of whom are considered conservatives – only Justice Clarence Thomas addressed the atrocity of abortion in the written opinion. Only one of nine justices even bothered to recognize the dignity and equality of American preborn children as affirmed in the founding documents the Supreme Court is supposedly in place to uphold.
Stand Up for Dignity
The decision from the Supreme Court is tragically disappointing and yet another example of how far our society has moved away from acknowledging the intrinsic dignity of all human life, and toward the dangerous practice of attributing dignity to some and not others.
However, we Americans who remain faithful to God, our founding documents, and the amazing ideals on which are nation was built remain undeterred. In fact, we double down because we care for those image bearers of God more than we care about being popular, politically expedient, or on the supposed “right side of history.”
We double down in our work in every part of society to show the love of Christ and advocate for these principles – not just in politics, but in business, our churches, our schools, our families, and our communities.
We will not give up the fight because human lives are at stake – lives that were uniquely created by God, in the image of God.
Will you stand up for equality of “all men,” from womb to tomb? Will you stand up for the “unalienable rights” that are “endowed” to us by our Creator? Will you stand up for the “right to life” for all humans?
Learn how you can get involved today: www.humancoalition.org/get-involved