Living ideals in the Declaration of Independence Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

Independence Day is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It is also known as the Fourth of July.

It is associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches, and ceremonies. On Independence Day we also celebrate other events concerning the history, government, and traditions of the United States.

Living up to noble principles

Our nation was founded on belief in God. According to Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, S.D., the words in the Declaration of Independence that we Catholics should especially recall are, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

For many years, America failed to live up to some of the noble principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence by tolerating legalized slavery. In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery as a legal institution. But 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. Gradually minority rights were recognized and other forms of injustice were corrected.

In his struggle for civil rights, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., chose not to attack America for her failings. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he challenged America to live up to the noble ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

These ideals are based on awareness that all people are children of God and their dignity is worthy of protection. Living the Declaration’s ideals is a task we Americans must continuously strive to achieve.

One nation under God

The Pledge of Allegiance reinforces the Declaration’s statement that God is the source of our nation’s independence. 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. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli was an Italian priest who became an American citizen. He admired America, but was not afraid to criticize her shortcomings.

He told Americans that the whole enlightened world was against slavery and wanted to eliminate it. He raised a prophetic voice when Abraham Lincoln declared August 6, 1863, as a day to thank God for Union victories over the South. He deplored the bloodshed of the Civil War.

Freedom to practice religion

Father Mazzuchelli believed that the Constitution guarantees citizens not freedom from religion but freedom to practice the religion of their choice. In his Memoirs, he wrote that the American government’s function was to protect not religion but citizens in their practice of religion.

American Catholics must work for social justice, which forms an important part of the Gospel. We must champion the dignity of those of different colors, national origins, ethnic backgrounds, or religions. We must protest violence of any kind.

In this Year of Faith, 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 justice and the right to live.

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