A Christian Looks at the American RepublicRobert C. Cannada January/February 2005
I know of no form of government that can guarantee my freedom to practice my religious faith ("freedom of religion") except a government that recognizes and honors "transcendent moral truths" These truths must come from a source other than "the people," but must not incorporate any particular religion into the government nor favor or be drawn from any particular religion. A government that does not recognize and honor any transcendent truths cannot be expected to secure or protect the "rights" of individuals, which rights are based upon transcendent moral truths. Nor can a government into which a particular religion has been injected be expected to secure or protect the individual freedom of religion.
The officeholders in a government charged with the responsibility of protecting or securing the freedom of religion of the people must make a distinction between their personal obligation under their religion and their obligation to the people as an officeholder. As a religious person, he or she, as a Christian, for an illustration, can look to the Bible, and officeholders of other faiths can look to the tenets of their religion for guidance and direction. As an officeholder, however, they are, regardless of their religious convictions, to look to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution for guidance and direction in the performance of their official duties. In effect, these two documents that were written by humans are to constitute their "bible" in the performance of their official duties of serving all of the people. This distinction is essential if my freedom of religion to practice my Christianity is to be preserved. Nothing is to be added to and nothing is to be taken from these two documents until and unless the people make a change in one of these documents.
As a Christian, I believe that I should do all that I can to elect as officeholders in the government people who are people of integrity. As a Christian, I desire to see officeholders who will abide by their oath and conduct the official business of the government for which they are responsible in accordance with the principles and truths set forth in the documents that created this nation and organized the powers of its government. I do not desire that the officeholders advance my particular religion in the government or use the powers of their office to advance my particular religion. Accordingly, as a Christian, I wholeheartedly support the form of government established by our Founders as reflected by the Declaration of Independence and implemented by the Constitution. That government is based upon a foundation of moral truths and principles that the officeholders in the government are obligated to recognize and honor, but does not include or advance any particular religion, including Christianity.
There are many Christians who have formed organizations for the purpose of using the civil court to "protect" or to "secure" the rights of individuals. Unfortunately, however, these organizations are not pointing the judges in those courts to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. It is those principles that protect our "Christian rights," our unalienable human rights, and to ignore those principles means that these Christian organizations are battling on the battlefield of "moral relativism" rather than on the battlefield of the transcendent moral principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution provides expressly that "judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution." Thus, our judges are bound by their oath to support the Constitution, which means that they are obligated by this oath to do all they can to secure the unalienable rights with which each person is endowed by their Creator.
I urge those Christians, in their litigation, to shift to the battlefield consisting of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. I urge them to make use of the tool provided by the organic laws of the government—the principles of the Declaration—and to shift from moral relativism to transcendent moral truths in their court presentations.
Some Christians are seeking to inject their Christian religion into the government. Various approaches are used. One of these approaches, while ignoring the Declaration, is to the effect that our nation cannot survive unless our government recognizes and honors moral truths, that all moral truths came from the Bible, and that therefore officeholders in the government should look to the Bible to identify the transcendent moral truths that they are to recognize and honor.
Another approach, while ignoring the Declaration, is to the effect that since most of the Founders were confessing Christians who looked to the Bible for their personal moral guidance and direction, officeholders should do likewise.
Still another approach is to the effect that the Declaration is clearly a part of the organic laws of our government, and since the principles of the Declaration are in accord with the teaching of the Bible, for this reason, or for some other similar or related reason, officeholders should look to the Bible to identify the transcendent moral truths that they are to recognize and honor in the performance of their official duties.
When these approaches are resisted by the government, the claim is made that the government is discriminating against Christianity. Under the form of government established by our Founders the government has the obligation to resist all efforts to inject any particular religion into the fabric of the government. I urge those Christians to cease their efforts to inject the Christian religion into the government.
Some Christian leaders, while not seeking or even threatening civil litigation, are advising other Christians as to their "Constitutional rights" without any reference to or mention of the principles of the Declaration. Thus, as an illustration, these Christians are being advised that their right to exercise freedom of religion, an unalienable right, depends upon such things as reason, common sense, court decisions, Judeo-Christian principles, natural law, or the First Amendment to the Constitution, rather than upon the "principles of the Declaration." These Christian leaders are not advising that attempts be made to inject or intermingle the Christian religion into the government.
They are, however, making a fatal mistake by advising that these individual unalienable rights can be secured or protected by the use of relativistic approaches as distinguished from transcendent moral truths. They are not advising the use of the tool provided by the Declaration for the protection of their unalienable rights. That tool is the principles of the Declaration of Independence. They are being advised to take a position based upon the wrong foundation. I urge these Christian leaders to advise the use of this tool, the principles of the Declaration, in defense of their actions even though there is no desire to initiate an action in the civil courts.
Some Christians are calling for our nation, as a nation, to look to and abide by the principles of the Declaration of Independence. They are not attempting to inject the Christian religion, or any religion, into the government. They are emphasizing the fact that the basic problem facing Americans today is the deterioration of morals in our society, and they are pointing to the principles of the Declaration as the cure to that problem. What they are doing is good and great for our nation; however, they are making a fatal mistake. They are applying the principles of the Declaration to all of the inhabitants that make up the people and are making no distinction between obligations and responsibilities of the inhabitants that make up the people on the one hand, and the officeholders in the government on the other hand.
It is essential, in my judgment, that this distinction be recognized and honored if this movement is to have any real success. While it may be argued that the principles of the Declaration are applicable to all of the inhabitants that make up the people, there is nothing in that document that assigns any responsibility, as such, to the inhabitants. The Declaration addresses the government and officeholders, and clearly obligates the government of the United States of America to secure the unalienable rights with which each inhabitant making up the people has been endowed by their Creator. In addition to providing specifically that the government is to secure the unalienable rights with which each one of the people is endowed, the Declaration identifies some of those unalienable rights. Nowhere does the Declaration deal with what the inhabitants who make up the people are to believe, nor does it set forth any duty for those inhabitants.
While the officeholders in the government have a specific duty to secure the unalienable rights of the people, each person is free to believe as they see fit and to, within reason, exercise their unalienable rights. Christians, as part of the people, are free to attempt to establish a Christian society or culture and in that sense establish a "Christian nation." This is to be distinguished, however, from attempting to establish a Christian government. Others are free to attempt to establish a culture based upon their religious faith or to oppose the establishing of any culture based upon a particular religion. This is the liberty , or freedom, that is to be protected by the government.
The judicial branch of our government is completely overreacting and is wrong in equating the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence with a particular religion—with the word "religion" as used in the First Amendment. The judiciary is, in effect, holding that the principles set forth in the Declaration violate the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is submitted that there is simply no basis for such a conclusion. As a Christian, as a citizen, and as a lawyer, I seek to be a person of integrity. Accordingly, I feel that I must insist that our government, and this includes the officeholders in the judicial branch of the government, recognize the form of government established by our Founders.
There is no conflict between the Declaration and the Constitution, and, to the contrary, the Constitution is to be interpreted in the light of the principles set forth in the Declaration. This form of government is designed to secure or protect my freedom of religion—an unalienable right. I urge the members of the judicial branch of our government to recognize and honor the fact that they are obligated to secure the unalienable rights with which all of the people have been endowed by the Creator God as set forth in the Declaration of Independence.
As a Christian, I appreciate the fact that our Founders, most of whom were Christians, determined not to attempt to base the government of the new nation upon Christianity, upon the Bible, or upon any facet of a particular religion. If the word "Christianity" had been used in the Declaration, then confusion would be rampant. There would be disagreement and confusion within the government even as to the basic tenets of Christianity, to put it mildly. A reference to the Bible would have had a similar result. A determination would have to be made by the government as to whether the reference to the Bible was to the Bible used by Protestants, the Bible used by Catholics, or the Bible used by Jews, together with a determination as to whether it was the Bible in its original language or the Bible as appearing in some translation. The question of the inerrancy of the Bible would also have to be addressed. The insurmountable problems that would be presented by intermingling into the government the Christian religion or the Bible are obvious, and it is understandable why our Founders, although most of them were Christians, elected to found this government upon the universal moral truths reflected in the "laws of nature and of nature's God," and not to involve any particular religion. The language of the Declaration makes it clear that the "unalienable rights," which are sometimes now referred to as "human rights," come from the Creator God and not from the people or from the government, yet no particular religion is referenced or even mentioned.
Attorney Robert C. Cannada was a founder and managing partner for 25 years of the largest Mississippi-based law firm, Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens, and Cannada. He was a founder of, and for 25 years chair of the board of trustees of, the Reformed Theological Seminary, with campuses throughout the United States and overseas. A member of the Presbyterian Church in America, he has taken leadership roles with the Christian Legal Society and the National Lawyers Association. He has written a book entitled America's Rule of Law, which enlarges on themes in this article.