You mistake some simple things. One, we have a “right” to our liberty, as shown in the Declaration of Independence. So, even if we only have the “freedom” to worship as we please, or to speak as we please, that means that we also have the right to do it when the Declaration is taken into account. As you are a self-described “Declarationist” I would have thought you would have recognized this. Even the author of this document that you hold in such high esteem agrees that govts ought only deal with things that “pick the pocket” or “break the leg” of others… When this is brought into account the rest of your objections to my definition of the term (as used by the Founders) falls apart.
Let us assume that the purpose of govt is to protect our “rights” (as you understand them). Then why would they put into law protection for our “freedoms”? Does that mean that they can legitimately take them away if they choose to do so? If they passed a law making worship of several gods illegal, would you say it is just? I hope not. Why does this matter? Because what do we mean by “right” (in this case) other than that which no man or group can take away legitimately?
I would love to see where the Founders said that our “rights” only come from correct action… In fact, I have much evidence to the contrary…
However, you are correct in saying that there is a difference between base “power” God gave us and moral/right action. However, you fail to see that there is a necessary line that falls between these two where govt must act. For if govt were to let all men do as they please it would have no purpose. Yet, if it were to make EVERYONE do as God told us, then it would do EVERYTHING and would be (quite literally) Theocratic. I can imagine no worse govt that this.
This whole discussion of rights actually refers to what govt (men) make legitimately do. Men cannot make us moral for morality’s sake… that didn’t work when the Pharisees tried it and missed the whole point (as Christ said). It is, more or less, to make us “play nice” and not hurt each other. The reason that there is a 4th amendment is that some things are simply not within the govt’s jurisdiction EVEN IF they are immoral.
The other big thing you mistake is that this country doesn’t just have Christians in it. While we MAY use “force” of a certain kind to make Christians moral (or threaten “exile” from the Church), we do NOT have the authority to make pagans moral for morality’s sake. Any law made applies to the believer and unbeliever and Christians must treat the two groups differently. Isaiah 64:6 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Therefore, just because WE must do right, we cannot make unbelievers do “right”, just that we can defend the innocent from them (and that happens to be a moral action).
Again you equate in meaning different words (freedom and liberty) by which the founders referred to two different manifestations of human choice. We are free to do what we have the power to do, but power does not constitute right. When we abuse our freedom by choosing to use our power to do wrong, it is called licentiousness, injustice and tyranny (depending on the scope and effect of the wrongdoing) not liberty. Liberty, as an unalienable right, refers only to freedom rightly employed. The key to the claim of right is not our freedom (free will and power) to act, but the fact that our authorization to act as we do comes from the sovereign of all, i.e., the Creator.
The fact that Christian ideas are fundamental to the possibility and success of America’s liberty does not mean that only Christians can live in America. However, it does mean that if, in practice, the America people discards the Christian understanding of right, we will be unable to sustain the character required to sustain liberty. Having ceased to be “a moral and a religious people” (as Adams said) we will be unfit to sustain the institutions of self-government ordained and established in the Constitution. This current events are already proving to be true.
Making people who reject right behave as if they respect it is the whole purpose of just law and government. Madison alluded to this fact when he said (Federalist 51) that if men were angels, government would not be necessary. “To secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just power from the consent of the governed.” That’s what the Declaration says. Some people may want securely (i.e., safely, and without fear of punishment) to do wrong. They may even establish unjust governments aimed at achieving this goal (the Mafia for example). But the just powers of government exist to stop (arrest) such wrongdoers. As Paul says, (Romans 13:4) the magistrate “does not bear the sword in vain (for nothing).” Whatever wrongdoers believe, and however organized and successful they are, the just powers of government exist to see that they behave properly (do right), or else to arrest (stop), confine, or even deprive them of life, so that they are not in a position to continue the depredation of right.
Also, you mistake the Scripture if you believe that God’s law does not apply to believers and unbelievers unlike. The “laws of nature” apply to all human beings. And it is these natural laws, provisioned by God, which are, the primary object of just government’s enforcement powers. To be sure, the individual’s disposition to do right is the source of the unity that constitutes civil society. It is supposed to be especially characteristic of Christians, since they have accepted to be governed by the heart, mind and will of Christ. However, there are others, acknowledged in the Scripture,(Romans 2:15, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16) who are disposed to follow the laws God has written on their hearts, and as long as their actions manifest this disposition, they too form part of the civil society in which people of good will unite to form and empower just government.
Thus you are right when you say that, according to the American creed, it is not the aim of government is to make people moral. That requires, as you have said, an agency more capable of perfection than any merely human institution. But government IS the instrument through which people disposed, on the whole, to do right join together to implement their common disposition, and to defend themselves and their community from the harmful actions of those who do not share it.
Just government is instituted to organize and use the common power of these righteously inclined people to police the harmful actions of the licentious, unjust, or tyrannical people actively determined to wrong them and others like them. It aims humanly to secure the activities of people willing to accept the provisions of God’s benevolent will as they walk along His way toward fulfilling the higher than political good that was and still, in Christ, remains His first intention for our nature.