Carl A. Anderson gave the Address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast last month, and spoke eloquently on the place of religion in the public square. He cited to President Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, in which the president spoke of the rights for which “our forebears fought,” namely “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” Anderson added:
“Stone of Hope,” Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
No one here needs to be reminded that this belief was the driving force behind the life’s work of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his historic letter from the Birmingham jail, Rev. King said that he and his followers “were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which,” he said, “were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
But perhaps we do need to be reminded that King’s letter relied upon our own Catholic natural law tradition.
He cited Saint Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
And he asked, “How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
He then went on to say, “To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”
There you have the ancient teaching of the Catholic Church, summed up by a Baptist preacher under arrest for living by it.
When you visit the new memorial to Dr. King on our national mall, read carefully the 14 quotations inscribed there. You will not find a single reference to God. Not one.
Imagine how those in authority must have searched to come up with 14 quotes of Dr. King without one mention of the Almighty.
There is no much shocking symbol of the ongoing campaign to drive religion out of our public life.
Jefferson Memorial – The “God Who Gave Us Life” Inscription
King’s statue looks across the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial dedicated to the president who is now championed by secularists for inventing a “wall of separation” between Church and State.
Ironically, while the King Memorial was scrubbed of any reference to our Creator, in Mr. Jefferson’s memorial, the walls tell us that “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty.”
And they ask us, “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
A great deal hinges on how we answer that question.
In case you’re curious, here are the inscriptions on the King Memorial:
- “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (16 August 1967, Atlanta, GA)
- “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963, Strength to Love)
- “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
- “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” (18 April 1959, Washington, DC)
- “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.” (25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA)
- “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
- “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
- “It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
- “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA)
- “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.” (4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York, NY)
- “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” (5 December 1955, Montgomery, AL)
- “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
- “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
|Martin Luther King, Jr.|
|Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Jefferson (1800)|
Secularists, like the none-too-modest folks at “RationalWiki” frequently work themselves into a panic over false threats like an American theocracy, or Dominionism, and the Fundamentalists they claim are the American Taliban. This fear-mongering is absurd: if you want to see what America would look like with a greater infusion of Judeo-Christian values, just look to our own history. We’ve never been a Taliban-style theocracy, and there’s no serious threat of us ever becoming one.
Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The Judeo-Christian belief that some rights come directly from God, rather than the State, is the best check against tyranny. America was founded on the idea that “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.” Cut out the Creator, and the rights are no longer inalienable. So the true threat is the one that President Kennedy identified: that we’ll forget that “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
One of the most pernicious effects of the purging of God from the public square isn’t even about religion, per se, but about our rights. If our rights come from Nobody higher than the State, then the State has the power and authority to remove those rights, should they wish. This is a prospect that everyone, religious or not, should be troubled by.