Round Table Discussion

"Dedicated to the Proposition"

A gay activist recently claimed on national television that legal rejection of gay "marriages" violates the Declaration of Independence, while an ACLU member insisted that posting the Ten Commandments in a courtroom was a violation not only of the Bill of Rights but of the Declaration. Though absurd, these positions logically follow from the dominant liberal interpretation of the document. Its claim that all men are "created equal" and are endowed with "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," has been treated as the sole meaning of the document, which—in this view—underwrites a radical ethic of individualism. In this way, the Declaration privileges the liberty of individuals over the corporate liberty of the people of a state to protect a valuable way of life, which includes authoritative interpretations of what the rights of individuals are. This Lockean reading of the Declaration is then read into the Constitution as its animating principle—despite the obvious fact that the Constitution was designed to protect the reserved corporate liberty of the states against encroachment by enumerating the powers granted by those states to the newly created central government. The language of "natural rights" does not appear in the ancient Greek and Roman traditions, nor in the Bible, nor in the Constitution: The only individual rights specified there are...

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