What an interesting coincidence! The author of America’s Declaration of Independence and Christopher Hitchens , the late journalist, intellectual, and author of a book on Jefferson, share an April 13th birthday!
In this election year, all candidates and voters should recall Jefferson’s words, that we are endowed “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” To what extent do any candidates today hold to the founders’ philosophy?
Jefferson, a deist, also was the author of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom. He believed that government should not be involved in religion and religion should not be involved in government.
Yet in this year’s election the watchword of Rick Santorum’s campaign was “faith.” He not only pontificated about his religious views on birth control and other matters; he has been explicit in rejecting Jefferson’s ideal of “freedom to be left alone” and to pursue individual happiness in favor of “the freedom to attend to one’s duties—duties to God, to family, and to neighbors.”
Newt Gingrich has also pandered to religious voters. He’s whipped them up over alleged attempts to “drive religion from the public square.” Never mind that individuals are still free to worship as they please, go to church, temple, or mosque; produce religious books; and broadcast programs, websites, or whatever.
Mormon Mitt Romney has run into the problem of many evangelicals seeing him as not a real Christian and thus opposing him for that reason rather than over policy views over which they might disagree.
This brings us back to Hitch. He was a leftist who changed politically when many of his fellow travelers reacted to the Islamist terrorist attacks not by standing up for the principles of open, secular societies but, rather, condemning those societies as imperialistic, repressive, and the like. Hitch thus found himself on the same side as many conservatives, including religious folks, opposing the Islamist threat.
But Hitch traced the concept of a “wall of separation” between church and state to Jefferson. So on their shared birthday, let’s remember that, echoing conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric on another matter, Hitch declared, “Mr. Jefferson, build up this wall!”
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.