As we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, it is fitting to reflect that the Declaration of Independence, upon which our great nation came into existence, proclaimed that all human rights come not from government but from God. This fundamental truth was well articulated in the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy on Jan. 20, 1961, in which he firmly affirmed, in his words, “the belief that the rights of men come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” He emphasized that this was in keeping with “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought.”
Unfortunately, the belief that human rights come from the state is prevalent in our nation today, as it continues to be around the world. We are now experiencing a call for the protection of feigned rights from the state which are incongruous with the natural rights given to us by God. The political context of today seeks to pontificate in a division of political party, which is of great harm to our nation and is tearing us from each other and from God.
Indeed, faith in party politics is surpassing faith in God. The state’s purpose is to recognize, protect and foster our rights, which come from the hand of God. It is the epitome of democracy to recognize, as we do in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, that we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The inaugural address of President Kennedy is considered a classic of rhetoric and American principles. At a time when there was a great division within the leadership of the world and, at the same time, when a division of parties was becoming prevalent in our nation, Kennedy commenced his address with words so fitting for the Fourth of July: “We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end as well as a beginning — safeguarding renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.” Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Kennedy did not hesitate to invoke God, as did the signers of that document. Faith in God and His law is not a personal matter separate from the state.
The inaugural address of John F. Kennedy was penned in the initial days of January 1961, here in Palm Beach, where his family owned a home. Kennedy’s adviser, Ted Sorensen, assisted him in the draft, but the ideas and phrases of the address were Kennedy’s, some which he used in speeches throughout the years. It was his intention to formulate an exhortation to the nation with the principles he set for his presidency, in the form of a brief address and in the style of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. The address was effective as a work of national insight, joining the nation together in gratitude for its richness and heritage, especially facing the challenges of the day in the context of its foundation.
The inaugural address was very significant in its recognition of God in the life of our nation, its birth and its continued progress. God has to be the source of who we are with the specific rights that he has granted to us and with our freedom to serve Him as superior to the state, which exists for His law. This is so well summed up in Kennedy’s closing admonition: “With a good conscience our only sure reward, and with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that, here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
The Fourth of July is a graced time to give thanks to God for our great nation and to do all that we can to protect it by observing the God-given law upon which it was founded. As the Declaration of Independence so clearly states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are God-given rights and do not come from the state. The state is there to protect them, not to create or negate them.
While Kennedy was specifically referring to interference to freedom from other nations, we are facing a threat to freedom arising within our nation. It is much too easy to become caught up in the political frenzy which attacks individuals and character, while it polarizes and blatantly displays the broken side of human nature, redeemed in the person of Jesus Christ. We need to be faithful to our nation under God and not give up on the principles which make this nation great under Him.
The Fourth of July gives us reason not to abandon our nation but to heed the words of President Kennedy, so well-articulated and remembered as written in the heart of our country: “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
We give thanks to God for our great nation on this Fourth of July and pray for His continued blessings upon it as we continue to recognize His rule over us. A Blessed Fourth of July to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 30, 2023