Outrageous Outrage of the Day

The wingnut sites are all hyperventilating about President Obama’s speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, in which he ad-libbed a quote from the Declaration of Independence — and left out the words “by their Creator.”

The Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey Anderson, in a post dripping with horror, asks the all-important question: Does President Obama Think Our Rights Come from Our Creator?

On Friday evening, when President Obama addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, he quoted that passage as follows (on the clip at 22:30): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal [pause], endowed with certain unalienable rights: life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In Obama’s version, there is no “Creator.”

Only two plausible explanations spring to mind. One is that President Obama isn’t very familiar with the most famous passage in the document that founded this nation; that even when plainly reading from a teleprompter, he wasn’t able to quote it correctly. The other is that President Obama doesn’t subscribe to the Declaration’s rather central claim that our rights come from our “Creator” (also referred to in the Declaration as “Nature’s God” and “the Supreme Judge of the World”).

The religious right is kinda cute when they’re mad.

First of all, as I pointed out above, those words were not in Obama’s written speech — he ad-libbed them. It seems incredibly stupid to claim that this reveals some important fact about Obama, but hey — this is the Weekly Standard. It’s what they do.

But there’s a more important point behind this latest silly outrage, and it has to do with the constant efforts of the religious right to destroy the wall of separation between church and state.

Fundamentalists love to point to the Declaration of Independence to support their claims that the founding fathers intended the United States to be a Christian nation, because of passages like this one. But the Declaration of Independence, although it’s a stirring call to arms and a powerful statement of principle, does not carry the force of law.

When it came time for the founders to delineate those rights in an official, carefully worded legal document, they drafted the United States Constitution. And the Constitution, with deliberate intent, does not mention “God” or a “Creator” even once. It explicitly rejects the idea of an “official” US religion; makes it illegal, in fact.

The Weekly Standard seems to take it as an objective fact that our rights come from God, and wants everyone to be outraged at Obama for suggesting otherwise. But without the magnificent US Constitution, created by human beings who understood the perils of state-sanctioned religion, there would be no guarantee of rights whatsoever. And without the tools of law enforcement, also created by human beings, there would be no way to enforce these rights, or punish those who would take them away.

You may wish to believe that the rights enumerated in the Constitution were inspired by God (that’s your right, after all), but they were conceived and written down by human beings, some of whom were Deists who did not believe in the Christian idea of God at all.

This insistence that human rights can only be granted by God is one of the fronts in the religious right’s constant battle to delegitimize the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and that’s why they’re beating the outrage drum so hard over this.

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