Flags, parades, barbecues and fireworks are great fun on the Fourth of July. However, it should also be an occasion to recall what constitutes us as a people. America is so “diverse” today that it is difficult to discern the basic principles that made America's birth possible. In fact, a number of things are being done in the name of the United States that seem at variance with an even rudimentary understanding of those founding principles.

News Reports from America

Consider, for instance, these curious current events.

“Gay Pride Day.” In June, the office of civil rights at federal government agencies proclaimed the observance and celebration of “National Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” One such announcement at the U.S. Information Agency said the purpose of the observation was to “provide our work-force with opportunities to be informed and educated about our similarities and our differences.”

The similarities are fairly easy to grasp: We are all, as the Declaration of Independence teaches us, human beings. But what of our differences in terms of sexual “preferences” On this the Declaration is silent. The only thing that differentiates a heterosexual from a homosexual is the act of sodomy. For those who have chosen sodomy, the posters announce “A Prideful Past and a Powerful Future.” Is it really the task of a federal office of civil rights to inform federal employees about the nature of such acts, and to approve of them as an object of pride?

The Columbine Massacre. The two students who massacred their classmates in Littleton, Colo., earlier this year were not the only ones breaking the law that fateful day at Columbine High School. Several students hiding under tables and elsewhere inside the school were praying. None of them have been prosecuted, probably because, technically speaking, they were not praying together, which would have been a clear infraction of the rules against state-sponsored religion. Since the Ten Commandments provide an effective inner sanction against murder, one must think long and hard as to why murder and the public display of the biblical injunction against it are both illegal. Of the two laws, only the ban against the Ten Commandments has been successfully enforced.

The “Right” to Pornography. According to The Washington Times June 2, the U.S. Department of Human Services plans to cancel the license of the Jaricot Foster Home for mentally retarded adults in Maine unless its proprietor, Monique Dostie, agrees to allow pornography and sexual activity among her wards. The guardians of her clients, whose mental ages vary from 3 to 5, chose the Jaricot Home precisely because of its policies. But state rules say people with mental retardation and autism in group homes have a right to participate in activities of choice, including the pornographic and the sexual.

Dostie, a devout Catholic, is refusing to comply, saying her residents “are not the ones asking for sex or pornography. It's the state that's mandating it.” Instead, she says, “I teach them their faith and bring God into their lives.” Since democracy depends for its existence upon the virtue of its citizens, why would a democratic state insist upon the dissemination of materials designed to undermine chastity, especially among those who are mentally minors?

Hormel Nomination. Despite “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month,” President Clinton was unable to get the U.S. Senate to confirm a wealthy homosexual activist, James Hormel, as American ambassador to Luxembourg, a Catholic country.Therefore, Clinton, using his power to make recess appointments when the Senate is not in session, sent Hormel on his way as ambassador anyway.

Coincidentally, a project that Hormel helped to fund, along with the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts, reached the U.S. airways at about the same time. The documentary, called It's Elementary, is aimed at advancing homosexuality through public education curricula. It shows how elementary school teachers can introduce their students to the subjects of homosexuality and lesbianism.

As one teacher announces to her peers, “What we're trying to have people do is to understand that people are. And we have to respect the right of all of us to just be, and be who we are, and we do that in the classroom when we teach so that everyone can learn. There isn't a right way, there isn't a wrong way, there isn't a good way, there isn't a bad way.”

This teaching has been amazingly effective with many students. But then again, if it is illegal to display the Ten Commandments, it cannot be that hard to convince students that there really is not a right way or a wrong way.

Army witches. The chaplain's office at U.S. Army Forces Command headquarters in Atlanta has now approved the inclusion of witches in its ranks. The chaplain handbook at Fort Hood, Texas, explains that practitioners of what is called Wicca are harkening back to “the Nature worship of tribal Europe.” Wicca witches, on behalf of their military congregations, propitiate the animist powers inhabiting the material world by casting various spells and summoning spirits. Lt. Col. Benjamin Santos, Fort Hood's spokesman, said of these activities that, “for us, it's not a religious issue. It's a quality-of-life issue.” Is that what it was for the early martyrs?

The purpose of recounting these events is not to titillate with horror stories, but to illustrate the extent to which this country has lost its bearings. Fifty years ago, sodomy was a criminal offense, the Ten Commandments were posted in public schools, pornography was outlawed, tribal paganism had been stamped out in Europe, and homosexuality was grounds for dismissal from the U.S. foreign service. What happened?

Understanding Liberty

All of the above instances can be explained by a point of view that found its fruition in the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey Supreme Court ruling regarding abortion. The justices opined that, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” In other words, we are not a polity formed around universal truths that we hold in common concerning the ultimate meaning of life. Rather, we can each decide upon the “meaning” of the universe that individually suits us. Our freedom is no longer dependent upon conforming ourselves to a reality that exists independent of our desires. Rather, we will conform reality to our desires. The ideal of liberty has changed from the freedom to do what one ought, to the license to do whatever one wishes.

The problem with the Casey formulation is that, were it true, the United States could never have come into existence 223 years ago. Liberty and constitutional order are not the product of simply any conception of the universe, but of only one. If all men can make up their own meaning, then there is no one meaning that should rule them. This makes democracy impossible. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Men will more and more realize that there is no meaning in democracy if there is no meaning in anything.” As Chesterton continued, “There is no meaning in anything if the universe has not a center of significance and an authority that is the author of our rights. … There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.”

Our Declaration of Independence announced this dogma in a rather magisterial way. According to it, we have a Creator who endows us with inalienable rights. We do not get to make up these rights, they are given to us. They have meaning only in reference to their Author. As one of our founders, John Adams, wrote of the idea of equality, “there is no such thing without a supposition of God. There is no right or wrong in the universe without the supposition of a moral government and an intellectual and moral Governor.”

Forward to 1776!

But more needs to be said. Man has worshipped many gods, and has lived in many different political orders, most of them tyrannical. Not just any god will do as the ultimate source of constitutional order: not Moloch, not Baal, not Thor, not Vishnu, not Quetzalcoatl, nor the Great White Spirit. Only one form of worship, the Judeo-Christian one, has given rise to a concept of ordered liberty in which the individual is inviolable.

The primacy of the person, unthinkable without the foundation of Judeo-Christian truth, defines the very order of the Constitution. Our Constitution is incomprehensible without certain presuppositions garnered from Judeo-Christian revelation: monotheism; the fundamental goodness and reliability of creation; a rational universe created by a rational, transcendent God; the existence of immutable human nature and the immortality of the human soul; salvation history and a Savior.

John Adams, writing about the basic principles upon which independence was achieved, asked, “And what were these principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity in which all those sects were united. … Now I will avow that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God. And that these principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature.”

A 20th century president very strongly agreed with Adams. Using words for our time, Calvin Coolidge wrote, “It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusion for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to [the Declaration of Independence].

If all men are created equal, that is final. If governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward.”

Our path, then, is clear. Forward to 1776!

Robert Reilly writes from Washington, D.C.