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We see demonstrators using religious slogans to gain political influence, and Supreme Court justices questioned over whether the Ten Commandments should display on government property.
The issue of separating church and state is one of the biggest conflicts in today's society. According to Cherniss (1998): "For all of the secularization and liberalization of society, religion continues to be a driving force in people's beliefs and behavior. In our own times, in our own country, religion has lost none of its inspiring and disruptive power. It has not, as some critics of American society have claimed, receded from the public sphere, scorned by secularists, mourned by the virtuous, and ignored by the majority. It is present everywhere, and both sustains our societies and threatens our liberties."
While religion and the clergy no longer have the same authority as it did a century ago, religious and quasi-religious leaders and communities remain central to many political movements (Cherniss, 1998). Religious movements dominate our politics. Many states continue to prevent atheists from holding public office, and homosexuals are constantly the victims of discrimination and condemnation.
In addition, when we consider Jefferson's views on politics and religion, his deism, his faith in reason, and his belief in natural rights, liberty, and democracy, were largely influenced by the Enlightenment (Cherniss, 1998). Jefferson's words and arguments in the Declaration often paraphrased John Locke, an Enlightenment leader. The idea of natural rights, which is seen in the Declaration, ultimately derived their authority from a contractual agreement between the governors and the governed, and therefore follow natural rights.
The original draft of the Declaration of Independence passionately denounced the slave trade, which many consider hypocritical, given that Thomas Jefferson was himself a slave owner (NIAHD, 2005). Still, it was the delegations from South Carolina and Georgia who demanded that this line be removed, as the slave trade was necessary to their livelihood. Many historians view this moment in history as the beginning of the breach that would lead to the American Civil War.
Finally, the Declaration states that the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the people (Goldwaithe, 1996). Many people believe that this statement is hypocritical because this means that as long as one person does not consent, any power exercised over that one person is unjust. If one person does not agree to pay taxes, is it unjust to force him to pay? According to the Declaration, it is unjust to force anyone to obey the law. However, we force all Americans to obey the law in the U.S., rendering this statement hypocritical.
In defense of the Declaration of Independence, it is a declaration for moral independence and provides guidance for the primary moral principles of Americans. In today's society and as far back as the document was created, it is impossible for men to live together voluntarily without government and without laws (Goldwaithe, 1996). There are ignorant and prejudiced people in this country today. The Declaration of Independence was founded in the principle of equal freedom.
However, it would have been more accurate to state, "We hold these principles to be primaries, that all men should be equal in power and in jurisdiction, that they should be endowed by their equals with certain Rights within their individual jurisdictions, that it would be impossible to positively enumerate all of these Rights therefore they must be defined negatively as the Right to behave in a particular way so long as the equality of all others is maintained, that government, per se, should be instituted among men only when disputes over individual jurisdiction arise and then only to secure individual rights (Goldwaithe, 1996)."
This wording would perhaps be more accurate, as it serves more as a moral principle than a strictly legal one. Society needs law and order, and certain parts of the Declaration could benefit from being clarified and improved.
Cherniss, Joshua. (Spring, 1998). Tis Time To Part: Renovating the Wall of Separation Between Church & State. The Yale Journal of Ethics.
Burnside, Julian. (2005). Hypocrisy and Human Rights. Spare Rooms For Refugees. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.spareroomsforrefugees.com/main.htm.
Goldthwaite, John. (December 17, 1996). Rebuttal Rights Memorandum. Fort Drum, New York:…[continue]
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