No one knows for sure when it happened but sometime over the last forty years or so the word "pursuit" was dropped from the Declaration of Independence and the words "life" and "liberty" migrated from the unalienable to the alienable category. These words survived the first one-hundred and ninety years or so but somehow their true meanings were lost during the turbulent decade of the 60's.
You know the phrase I am talking about right? It is the phrase from the Declaration that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It is my contention that the loss of the word pursuit and the redefinition of life and liberty have wreaked havoc on our understanding of just what our "unalienable rights" are all about. In fact, there seems to be major confusion among most of the current seekers of the presidency from both major political parties concerning the true meaning of our unalienable rights.
Unalienable rights are rights which cannot be taken away by government because they were granted by God. On January 22nd, 1973 the United States Supreme Court announced the right to life was no longer unalienable and was instead a "choice" granted to women in protection of their "right to privacy" or more specifically their reproductive rights. This launched a nationwide philosophical debate over the meaning, the value, and the exact moment of the beginning of life. We learned that legislatively, life could be defined by an arbitrary system of viability related to which trimester a woman happened to be in when she decided to abort her baby. In the early stages of the debate most states came down on the side of early trimester abortions only. But as we moved further and further away from the concept of life being an unalienable right we moved the "deadline" for abortion closer and closer to the moment of live birth until we approached infanticide with the advent of partial birth abortion.
Once we became comfortable with life being defined by the government instead of God we began applying our new definition to life at the opposite end of the life cycle. If the convenience of the mother could be a justification for the death of her unborn child that same argument could be applied to those whose lives had become a burden to themselves, to others, or to the State because they were either too old or too infirm to matter.
From there it was a short step to the rationalization of life being destroyed in its embryonic stage for the purpose of a possible cure for terrible diseases. Once life became alienable by becoming expendable it was inevitable that we would eventually get around to sacrificing life for the sake of improving humanity…..even though obvious options are now available which render embryonic stem cell research unnecessary.
Liberty survived as unalienable until some legislators realized we would exchange our liberty for heavy taxation if we perceived ourselves as the beneficiaries of the government's largess. In his excellent little book Politics: Easy as P.I.E. former Ohio Congressman Bob McEwen equates freedom with choices. The more choices we have the more freedom we enjoy. Taxes remove our freedom by limiting our choices and expanding the reach of government into our lives. McEwen says, "The higher the taxes, the greater the government's control. The greater the governments control the fewer the choices."
Of course, there are other ways the government can usurp a person's liberty. It can pass laws such as hate crime legislation that allows the government to judge the thought process of individuals. Thankfully the latest attempt to pass such laws on the national level failed thanks to stiff opposition in the House.
The government can pass laws redefining the meaning of eminent domain to include the confiscation of private property for its tax revenue potential. The government can also remove our liberties from the unalienable category by granting those liberties to illegal aliens and terrorists. Such a cheapening of liberty affects the freedom of every American by filling our country with people who understand liberty to be nothing more than a tool for personal gain as it relates to illegal aliens or a tool for national destruction as it relates to terrorists.
Finally, we come to the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right. Notice our nations founders realized it is the pursuit of happiness that is unalienable and not happiness itself. As someone who has served as a pastor of the local church and now serves as an administrator of a Christian University I can promise you it is impossible for one person to make another person happy. For happiness to be unalienable it must be always pursed but never legislated. The main reason we are infected with such an entitlement mentality in America today is because most lawmakers believe happiness can be legislated rather than pursued. True happiness is possible only when the government gets out of the way and allows its citizens to pursue happiness until it is apprehended.
Politicians promise happiness by taking money from one group and giving it to another. They falsely believe relieving the producers of society of the fruit of their labor and giving it to the consumers though a social welfare system will produce happiness. All it produces is endless bondage to an unsustainable entitlement mentality.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….until we recognize them once again as unalienable because they are God given I am afraid they are in danger of becoming unsustainable.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.