by Edd Doerr
Where do our rights come from? One very common answer would be to point to the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which reads, in part: "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..."
Let's look at this in context. When the Declaration was written in 1776 we were well into a war with the greatest empire on the planet. Perhaps a third of our population supported independence. Nearly as many were Loyalists and at least a third were indifferent. The deck was stacked against us. We did not know that the British would make as many mistakes as they did or that French aid would be crucial. As the country from which we were seeking independence supported the widespread "divine right of kings" notion, it made good public relations or propaganda sense to speak of the divine origin of our rights.
But if rights came from a deity, why was this asserted only in 1776 and why did it apply only to white males? Why did African Americans have to wait until 1865 for slavery to be be abolished and another century to pass before the civil rights movement succeded in advancing rights? And why did it take until the early 20th century for women to get the right to vote? And why are women still only 17% of our national legislature? And why are most of the world's people still without much in the way of rights?
Should we blame God? Hardly. What we need to do is recognize that rights exist because We the People conceive them, spell them out, define them, fight to acheive them, and create the machinery to defend them. And we have keep on refining them ( as the Supreme Court did in 1973 in Roe v Wade with regard to women's rights of conscience) and defending them -- forever.
We cannot rest. We cannot throw in the towel.