Have you ever visited the National Archives and seen the Declaration of Independence? It is featured alongside the U.S. Constitution and other historical documents in the dimly lit rotunda of the National Archives building. Those timeless words on the yellowing parchment are fading. So is our collective understanding of what America is about.
Consider popular ideologies that retell our history and cast America in the worst possible light. The 1619 Project would have us believe that the formative idea of America is when slaves were first brought to this land. Critical Race Theory (CRT) equates whiteness with oppression and tries to divide us based on the color of our skin. Cancel culture is the bludgeon that enforces these ideologies and marginalizes those with conservative views, especially those seeking to live and work according to conscience and religious convictions.
These destructive ideologies are moving into the mainstream and reject what Americans have collectively understood since we declared our independence from Great Britain 245 years ago. Central to what we’ll celebrate this Sunday is a framework for freedom, beginning with God, who is the source of our rights. The Declaration says we’re all “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.” A core American ideal is that regardless of race or ethnicity, we all possess inherent dignity and are of equal value.
Racial superiority is anathema to those words, even if some of the Founders didn’t practice them. Also problematic is fanning the flames of racial grievance, which focuses on past wrongs instead of future possibilities. Both extremes militate against ideals of the greatest ethnic and racial melting pot in the world.
Racial equality is possible in America—however imperfect it appears now, because of a political cornerstone undergirded by a Biblical truth: each of us is made in the image of God. This leads to another central truth of the Declaration: God is part of our political fabric, and acknowledging the Creator as the source of law, justice, and morality is integral to freedom.
The Founding Fathers made a moral case for resisting King George’s tyranny and separating from Great Britain. To do so, they relied upon “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” outlined “a long train of abuses” of a tyrannical King who trampled their rights, appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the world,” and had a “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” God is referenced four times in the Declaration. He is implicitly acknowledged as the basis for justice and the fountain of all human rights. Yet, we have lost this understanding.
Several surveys over the last decade reveal our ignorance of basic civics. Last September, the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 51% of Americans could identify the three branches of government. Fewer could name more than a couple of our freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. Even more confuse liberty with license. Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs poll found that 46% of Americans believe changing one’s gender is morally acceptable. 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage. Some contend these beliefs are consistent with American freedom, but an individual’s right to define one’s own moral code was foreign to our Founding Fathers.
So long as we reject the source of our rights, the One whose image we’re made in, we are doomed to forfeit the rights themselves. Pursuing untethered imaginations in the name of freedom degrades the image of God and leads us into the slavery of self. We can do better than this. May we rediscover our nation’s ideals and the God who gives us true freedom. This is worth celebrating on July 4.
Richard Nelson is the Executive Director of Commonwealth Policy Center. He is also the host of the Commonwealth Matters Podcast on Spotify. For more of Mr. Nelson and CPC’s content visit www.commonwealth policycenter.org