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Bishop's Column

Bishop Barbarito Column

Declaration of Independence and of human dignity

As we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, we give thanks to God that we are blessed to live in our great nation of the United States of America. There is no question that our nation is facing many difficult issues in a political climate that is causing a great deal of confusion. Some are questioning where our nation is heading in regard to democracy. However, no matter how serious the division may be within our nation today, the Fourth of July offers us the opportunity to commit ourselves to our great nation and to the true democracy for which it came into existence. That democracy is enshrined in the founding document of our country, the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Here, we find articulated why this nation has thrived over the years on its founding principles.

The Declaration of Independence declares the dignity of every person when it articulates, “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.” The Declaration of Independence of our founding fathers decrees that, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The philosophy that underlines the declaration is that human rights come from God and not from the state. The essential rights which the state cannot contradict are those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and when it does, it is no longer lawful government.

Our nation is now in the midst of a situation in which human rights are being redefined as not coming from God but from the state. It is the law that can determine the right to life, as so clearly experienced in the abortion debate within our country, the right to sexual identity as coming, not from God, but from personal choice, and the definition of marriage, not an exclusive union between man and woman, but as a union defined by the state. So many of the issues before us are issues that pertain to the actual definition of the human person and what it means to be a human person.

Our firm Catholic belief is that such definition does not come from the state but from God, and the state cannot redefine these matters without interfering with our religious liberty. While we must have respect for every person made in the image and likeness of God, it is not our right to redefine the human person and the rights that are inherent in being human. We believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God and that He has determined who we are and what our fundamental rights are. This is much in keeping with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, recognizing “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” In the midst of the confusion that is being caused today within our society by this redefinition, and also in order to reaffirm the dignity of every human person, Pope Francis has recently declared, through the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Declaration on Human Dignity, “Dignitas Infinita.” This declaration is a significant one in regard to affirming the dignity of every person made in the image and likeness of God, but also affirming God’s plan in creating the human person in that image and likeness. The declaration emphasizes that, “Every human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter. This principle, which is fully recognizable even by reason alone, underlies the primacy of the human person and the protection of human rights.” This universal affirmation is positive and nonjudgmental, but also clearly contradicts many popular opinions on moral issues as held by our society today, such as abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and gender ideology. The declaration likewise affirms the dignity of the disabled, the abused, the outcast, the immigrant and those on the periphery of society. This right to religious liberty within our nation mandates that we are not bound to promote what is contrary to our belief.

It is so essential for our nation today to realize that the definition of the human person does not derive from the government. Good order in living in society entails the need for rules, laws and regulations, but not the essential definition of a human person. Political debate centers around the government’s right to supervise those governed by it, but not to define human nature as God created it. There is no question that there is a greater need for respect for each other as well as for different opinions within our society today. However, there is also an overriding need for respect for the human person who comes into this world with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Pope Francis’ Declaration on Human Dignity, “Dignitas Infinita,” through the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, is much in keeping with our nation’s Declaration of Independence.

On the Fourth of July, we as Americans proudly uphold our Declaration of Independence and our national Constitution. We also uphold human dignity as created in God’s image and likeness, which cannot be altered by the state. Let us be grateful for our great nation and the fundamental principles upon which it was founded. Let us pray for our country that it may have the wisdom to seek the natural law as God has given it to us, without division and in peace, so that we may live in harmony with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito