From America's Declaration of Independence.....
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are Lendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, iberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
American Christians often point to that sentence from the Declaration as evidence that human rights come from god, the Creator. Of course, what those Christians mean is the Judeo-Christian god, Yahweh...the god of the Bible.
But as he wrote that high-minded sentence, did Thomas Jefferson actually believe the words he was writing?
If Liberty flows from unalienable rights from an invisible and silent Creator, and it was self-evident that all men were created equal.....why didn't those rights extend to blacks held as slaves by white men who controlled the colonial states? Jefferson, to his shame, held many slaves, and actually bred slaves for profit, but he did so with the belief that blacks were not fully, well, "men."
Jefferson saw black human beings as sub-human. Perhaps that is why he felt comfortable writing "all men are created equal"....because to Jefferson, "men" equaled white men.
But U.S. citizens do not agree with Jefferson today. As superstition was replaced by science over centuries, U.S. citizens have accepted what Jefferson and the Founders could not accept....other than in duplicitous Declaration doubletalk.
My point here is that the lofty language of unalienable rights flowing from some Creator god didn't mean to the Founders what we take it to mean today. Who changed? Did the Creator god change? Or have U.S. citizens changed?
Now,...I submit that unalienable rights flow, not from some invisible god who has never communicated with human beings, but from the laws humans compose to organize their societies. For America those human laws are based on the Constitution. As American citizens have changed their minds on what constitutes "men", those rights that Jefferson said were self-evident in the 18th century, became more "self-evident" ....and today, the word "men" from the Declaration includes female and non-white citizens.
I raise these points because U.S. citizens are changing their minds again. Only this time over other words also written by American men in 1868 in the 14th Amendment....."No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Again, the original context is primarily referring to black Americans freed in the Civil War. Even though another hundred years went by during which human laws were still applied unequally and black citizens were often deprived of due process and equal protection, liberty and property,....in the middle 1960's Americans changed their minds, and representatives passed Civil Rights legislation to reflect that mind change.
This week, the Supremes heard oral arguments over whether the words of the 14th amendment also apply to gay citizen couples seeking equal protection under marriage laws. Christianists argue that the 14th does not apply to gay couples seeking equal justice under marriage laws. However, from all the polling done on this topic, it does seem like Americans have once again changed their minds. This time on who falls under the protection of the 14th amendment. A majority now believes gays should have the legal right to marry.
In the same way that American citizens changed their minds about who constituted Jefferson's "all men", American citizens today have changed their minds about who falls under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The unalienable rights of the 18th century are not the unalienable rights of the 21st century, nor should they be. Whatever Jefferson meant by including the flowery "endowed by their Creator", what those words obviously did not mean....was that those "self-evident" rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness would not change over time.
We'll see in June whether the highest human Court in the land agrees.