[This is a comment from one of my Facebook readers, with my reply. It was occasioned by my last post entitled “Bullying ‘bible thumpers’, O’Reilly rejects God-endowed rights”.]
THE COMMENT: The states should decide. It’s not a federal issue. Look at what has happened to the Bill of Rights every time Congress thinks they have a problem only the Federal government can solve. Oh, that’s right. We haven’t had a Bill of Rights since the Rule of Abe the Innocent.
MY REPLY: “To secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That applies to the State governments as well as the US government. All governments are obliged to respect God-endowed right. The bill of rights does not license the states to do otherwise. The U.S. Constitution accommodated slavery as a matter of fact, not as a matter of right.
Nota bene: As it appears in the Declaration, consent is the source of powers, not the source of rights. When individuals consent to do right, as God gives them to see the right, they have the right to act as they do. Just powers are wielded by those who consent to do right. Those who consent to wrongs wield unjust powers, which are not the powers referred to in the Declaration’s words.
State “laws” that violate God-endowed right are no more legitimate than US government laws that do so. Your error arises from the fact that you assume that the just authority of government derives from the consent of the people. But God is the author from whom the people derive their right of self-government. He is their authority. When they consent to act accordingly, their exercise of right institutes just government. But when they consent to disregard the rights He has endowed, they depart from His authority, thereby surrendering the right to govern themselves. As and when they return to respect for God-endowed rights, they regain it.
The Declaration explains itself as the result of events whereby it became necessary “for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another….” The Declaration thus represents the first self-consciously independent assertion by the American people as a whole. It is the first appearance of the union of goodwill and righteous purpose wherein the nation was conceived and brought forth, as Abraham Lincoln accurately observed later on. Because the British government violently resisted its emergence, this union of the American people had first to be vindicated through the travails of the Revolutionary war. Only thereafter, could the American people, as such, act to institute a government for themselves that self-consciously reflected the basis for their unity.
On this account, we understand how the words of the U.S. Constitution could be written in the voice of the whole “people of the United States.” It clarifies the reason why the first goal the people state in the preamble to the Constitution is not to initiate union, but to form a more perfect union, i.e., bring to completion what they (the people) have already proven to exist. Some so-called conservatives claim that the government established by the Constitution consists of powers delegated by the State governments. But it is the whole people of the United States that speaks. It is the whole people whose will has ratified the decision that determines which powers belong exclusively to the US government, which powers remain with the States, respectively and the people, and which powers are shared among them.
The failure to appreciate the significance of this fact is the source of much tragic misunderstanding these days. According to the Constitution the union which constitutes the people of the United States, as such, exists before the words of the Constitution are spoken. The union of the nation (i.e., the American people as a whole) is antecedent to the union government they ordain and establish by and through the Constitution. That government derives its authority from the people. But this begs a question, a question that is not answered in the Constitution because it has to be answered apart from and before the Constitution can have authoritative significance: What is the source of the people’s authority?
The Declaration answers that question. Its words and logic establish the people’s right to govern themselves. And both unequivocally verify that the authority of the people derives from the Creator, the author of their nature and of nature as a whole.
Issues like slavery, abortion and the God-endowed rights of the natural family are issues that challenge the people to respect or discard the words and logic of the Declaration. If, at any level of government, they consent to discard them, they discard the authority that makes their consent the basis of just government. This is the suicide of liberty; the self-murder of self-government, of by and for the people. When the people of any State or States of the Union decide to take any such course of action, the American people as a whole have the duty to prevent them. When the government of the United States embarks upon any such course of action, the people, on their own, but more effectively in and through their State governments, have the duty to resist and prevent them. Either way it comes, the people of the United States face a crisis that must determine whether they survive as a nation exercising right (putting it into practice) and, therefore endowed by God with liberty.