Obama’s Inalienables

Each time President Obama addresses America’s inalienable rights, I get emails. “Did you see Obama left out ‘Creator’ again?” began the latest.

The most recent occasion was a June 17 presidential statement responding to a U.N. resolution on sexual orientation. Obama stated that “LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights—and entitled to the same protections—as all human beings.”

I can imagine why Obama and his speechwriters excluded the Creator in this particular statement. To say that “LGBT persons,” meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, have inalienable rights is one thing. After all, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson affirmed that “all” human beings are endowed with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

I take the Founders at their word. “All” means “all.” And this, wrote Jefferson, with the hearty approval of John Adams, Ben Franklin, and the entirety of the Continental Congress, is a “self-evident” truth. 

No one should argue that “LGBT persons” don’t have inalienable rights. 

And who endows those rights? The Creator does.

President Obama and his speechwriters and staff surely knew that to bring the Creator into this statement on sexual orientation would generate a firestorm over origins—from the origins of man and marriage to the origins of sexual orientation, from the ancient words of Genesis to the modern text of the Defense of Marriage Act. 

That said, this is far from the first time President Obama has been selective with inalienable rights and, more tellingly, with their preeminent author. As CNS News reported, this was the third time this year alone that Obama used the language of “inalienable rights” but omitted the “Creator.”

In fact, this tendency by Obama began literally at the very start of his presidency. In quoting what seemed to be an amalgam of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, our new president excluded “life” among the inalienables, as well as the “Creator” that endows that right to life. It was quite a statement for his first presidential statement.

What to make of all of this? It’s hard to say, but it’s surely no accident.

Presidents have speechwriters. They write speeches with carefully crafted words that the president wants to say. Those speeches go through an exhaustive review. Exclusions like “Creator” and “life” from America’s sacred inalienable rights (or “unalienable”) don’t happen causally—or shouldn’t. 

In truth, one cannot separate our Declaration’s inalienable rights from their Creator. The Founders understood this, knowing that Americans must realize that these inherent rights come not from man or government but God.

Is President Obama’s repeated failure to overtly link the two an attempt to separate them in a deeper sense? Or is he simply assuming they’re intertwined, with no need to openly acknowledge God as the source? I don’t think we can assume the latter, especially given Obama’s consistent omission of the source, but—to be fair—I can’t say for certain.

Nonetheless, something is going on here. And this much I can say: 

President Obama and his administration pride themselves as modern progressives. The progressive project, for 100 years and counting, has been about reshaping and redefining the very essence of American thinking. The Constitution itself has been the obvious target. Progressives eagerly reinterpret the Constitution, declaring it a “living document” subject to their unceasing, always-evolving “changes” and “reform.”

So, given their liberties with the Constitution, why wouldn’t progressives do the same with the Declaration of Independence?

With Obama’s statements, are we witnessing larger symptoms of a progressive push to reshape and redefine the Declaration’s inalienable rights and, more fundamentally, their very source? Are we observing an attempt to remake these rights in the progressives’ own image, with the Creator out of the process?

Progressivism is moral relativism at the political level. Truth is never constant, with no fixed starting point, whether (theologically) in Sacred Scripture or (politically) in sacred political documents like the Constitution and Declaration. Truth is determined not by an absolute authority but by individuals—or, here, progressive individuals en masse—who are always marching and ever-advancing toward evolving truths revealed somewhere down the road. There is no goalpost set in concrete. Progressives themselves cannot tell you their ultimate endgame because they are constantly progressing (click here).

Is this an exasperating ideology? You bet it is.

What does this mean as America again prepares to mark the Declaration of Independence? Does it mean our “inalienables”—or, more so, their fountainhead—are not so self-evident, or at least subject to reinterpretation?

To citizens of a “progressive” mind, yes, I’m afraid so. Is our president among them? I fear so.

And I’m even more afraid that few Americans know or care.

[Editor’s note: A longer version of this article appears at today’s American Thinker.]

(© 2011 Paul Kengor)

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is also co-author (with Patricia Clark Doerner) of The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).