A Short Lesson in History
By Jeff Mateer
General Counsel for Liberty Institute
My lovely wife, D’Ann Mateer, asked me to share my thoughts on the right to life. She rejected my first submission, claiming that it was too much of a history lesson and that it lacked personal experience.
My first response to her is, of course, anything that I would write would contain a history lesson. I’m a constitutional lawyer, who believes a large part of our problems today result from the failure of judges, law professors, and lawyers to strictly interpret the actual text of the Constitution given the original intent of the Framers.
My second response is I’m a lawyer and a man. I don’t share personal experiences, at least not for free.
Nevertheless, taking appropriate note of her suggestions, here goes my revised submission.
When I hear the words “right to life” what do I think of? Immediately, my thoughts turn to the current debate over abortion. I also mull over the controversy concerning euthanasia and other end of life issues.
The phrase “right to life”, however, is not a creation of the 20th or 21st century. It has its origin in the Declaration of Independence. Two hundred and thirty four (234) years ago, our nation’s founding fathers declared the self-evident truth that “all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The founders unequivocally recognized that God granted all mankind basic moral rights that include, at the forefront, the right to life.
Our Founding Fathers’ recognition of these unalienable rights was not new, even in 1776. Instead, their recognition was grounded upon established English common law and ultimately God’s law. As recognized by founding father John Dickinson, “[o]ur liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals, but come from the king of kings and the Lord of all the earth.”
For centuries, our law consistently protected the rights of the unborn, the infirm and the elderly. As founding father James Wilson (who would sign both the Declaration and the Constitution and would become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 1789) observed, “[w]ith consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law.”
Regrettably, things are different today. We have forgotten our history, centuries of common law, and in the end, our God.
In 1973, seven unelected judges determined that, despite hundreds of years of contrary precedent, the unborn had no right to life. Since that time, 52 million innocent lives have been taken. This past year over 1 million lives were terminated. Today alone, in abortion mills through out the country, 2,739 babies will be killed.
For over the past 30 years, we seem to be living in a society that does not honor life, but instead promotes a culture of death. The unborn, the old, the imperfect are often seen as expendable instead of having a right to life—including a right to impact our lives in ways that might make us uncomfortable. Or might even require some sacrifice on our part.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we can also rejoice knowing that He came to save us from death and to grant us true life. God’s word expressly tells us that while the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (sounds a lot like today’s culture of death), Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Simply put, we have freedom and a right to life today only through the death and resurrection of our Savior and Lord.
So as we celebrate freedom this weekend, let’s remember that our freedom includes a right to life—physically and spiritually— as we stop to thank the One who created life in His image. Let’s also pausing to remember that the battle for the right to life and the protection of the unborn, the infirm and elderly continues.
How can we celebrate life this 4th of July?
P.S. For my lovely wife: “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” And my personal experience in writing this post tells me blogging is hard work.