On Thursday, the La. House of Representatives voted 70 to 23 to require students in grades four through six to learn and recite the most famous passage of the Declaration of Independence. Incredibly, some legislators opposed the idea.
I argued for the bill (HB 1035) because the Declaration of Independence is of singular importance. As our nation’s birth certificate, it is recognized first among the “Organic Laws of America,” and placed at the very beginning of the United States Code. If we did not regard the Declaration as a law of superior authority, our Constitution and all other laws would be illegitimate because they build upon its essential foundation.
The central idea of the Declaration—and the American Revolution—was our profound, historic premise that God, our transcendent Creator, conferred upon man certain inalienable rights that are beyond the dominion of human government. As English author G.K. Chesterton observed: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature.”
During the infamous first debate over HB 1035, one representative suggested the Declaration could not be supported by civil rights leaders. She was sadly mistaken. As Martin Luther King, Jr., explained in his iconic speech: “When the architects of our Great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. . . I still have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” As Lincoln affirmed in the Gettysburg Address, our nation is “dedicated to th[at] proposition.” Indeed, this is at the heart of what it means to be an American.
Students today desperately need this reminder, especially because most of their textbooks now omit the fact that our rights derive from God, rather than any state, tyrant or king. As the Elementary Textbook Evaluation Guidewarned in 1961: "Withhold from the children for one generation the truth of 'rights endowed by the Creator' and our Constitution could be altered and our freedom could be voted away without citizens ever knowing the cause of their slavery."
We must ensure the next generation understands these foundational principles. Reciting the creed of our nation will help.