One nation under God Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Jul. 07, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

On Independence Day we celebrate the anniversary of the day that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We also express our admiration and gratitude for the brave men who risked their lives and fortunes to sign this great document.

Bishop Paul Swain once wrote that in his judgment the most famous words related to the Declaration of Independence are, “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 pursuit of happiness.”

One nation under God

The Pledge of Allegiance reinforces the Declaration’s statement that God is the source of our nation’s independence. In 1952, the Knights of Columbus urged Congress to introduce a resolution to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The resolution was introduced by Congressman Louis C. Rabaut of Michigan and adopted by both Houses of Congress. It was signed by President Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

For many years, America failed to live up to some of the noble principles expressed in the Declaration of Independ-ence by tolerating legalized slavery. In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery as a legal institution. But even after slavery was abolished, many African-Americans were denied their God-given rights in other ways.

For years women were also denied the right to vote. In August of 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote.

In his struggle for civil rights, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., chose not to attack America for her failings. Instead he challenged America to live up to the noble ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

Every person is valuable

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., the pro-life movement calls on America to live up to the noble ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. It invites Americans and others to acknowledge and defend the rights of all humans to their God-given right to life.

This includes unborn children growing and developing in their mother’s womb. In 1973 in Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that the word person as used in the 14th Amendment does not include the unborn.

The Church teaches that every person has value because God made that person, not because the state recognizes him or her. Every person, including the unborn, is created by God with certain God-given rights and therefore should be treated with respect. The value of one person transcends all the material world.

Outcry to defend life

In his farewell address at the Airport of Detroit on September 19,1987, Pope John Paul II taught, “Every human person — no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society — is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival — yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

In 1988, in Christifideles Laici, (On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World), Pope John Paul II taught “The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Keeping America great

More than 150 years ago, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and looked for the secret of her greatness. He wrote:

“Not until I heard the pulpits of America flame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” He also thought that American women contributed much to America’s greatness.

To help America to “be good,” as Catholics and citizens, we must continue to work for human rights, especially the most basic human and civil right which is the right to life. When we do so, we are faithful to God and the vision of our founders. They envisioned one nation under God with liberty and justice for all, as expressed in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Independence Day invites us to thank God for our cornucopia of blessings. The song “America, the Beautiful” reminds us of America’s blessings. It also invites us to ask God to “mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

In celebrating Independence Day this week, let us recommit ourselves to living out the self-evident truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence, especially the rights of the unborn and others who cry for the right to live.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.