[This article concludes my critique of Justice Thomas’s dissent from the majority’s opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which I began in an article published at barbwire.com]
“…sed magis amica veritas”
Those who read Justice Thomas’s opinion to the end will doubtless object to my view of its deficiencies. They will point to the fact that he cites the Declaration’s evocation of God as his dissent draws to a close:
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.
But after this promising recapitulation of the words that mention God-endowed rights, Justice Thomas contrives to give them a strictly negative connotation for government. He seems to do so in order to respond to the majority’s flawed discussion of government’s responsibility to respect human dignity or worth. But both Thomas and the Court’s majority ignore the fact that the Declaration does not mention human dignity, per se. What it does clearly proclaim is that government’s positive aim or end is to secure God-endowed unalienable rights:
To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
But the Declaration clearly ascribes the endowment of alienable rights to God. When people exercise such rights, therefore, they submit to the sovereignty of God. Their actions make it clear that they consent to His government. Their active consent to His government thus constitutes the rightness of their actions. It is the concrete basis for their claim of rights. It is also what entitles them to the dignity of wielding a share of sovereign power. For in human nature itself God offers every human being a commission in His government- the commission to do right as He has determined and informed them of it. By accepting this offer, they become ministers of His sovereignty, actively disposed to respect and do His will.
This is the import of what the English philosopher John Locke (for whom the founding generation expressed high regard) calls his “very strange doctrine” that, by nature, “every man has the right to…be the executioner of the law of nature.” Locke avers that all human beings are “servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure.”
Human dignity is therefore not some inert or purely passive attribute of human nature. It is not derived from human indifference to God’s standard of right. The standard of right in just human government reflects the quality of God’s government, just as the qualities attributed to human nature reflect God’s qualities. It is a standard that calls for a positive disposition to act in respect of God’s goodwill toward humanity. Each person who does so is thereby identified as one of the good people, those who uphold the representation of God (i.e., His image and likeness) that makes us “persons” in the literal and consummate sense.
So, as it concludes, the Declaration speaks “by Authority of the good people [emphasis mine] of these colonies”, i.e., those willing to do right; not those who refuse or act against God’s commission to do right. The standard of right enacted by just human governors must reflect the quality of God’s government, else they forfeit their claim to the office they purport to fulfill. (This is why the Justices responsible for Court’s opinion in this case should be impeached.)
July 4th is the day we are supposed to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. But now, for the first time in the history of the United States, July 4 must be a day of mourning, not of celebration. For Americans of goodwill must commiserate, in the wake of a Supreme Court decision in which an impudent, prejudiced majority struck what they intend to be a death blow against the self-evident truths the Declaration admits and proclaims; and in which even the best of those who should have boldly upheld the Declaration’s standard against the majority, instead cowered in the penumbra of that majority’s abandonment of right and reason, ashamed to admit the power of God’s name, to which the Declaration reverently defers, along with His authority, on which those self-evident truths self-evidently depend.