Follow this reasoning:

To say that safeguards for individual liberty do not have any intrinsic worth is to say that individual liberty does not have any intrinsic worth. To say that individual liberty does not have any intrinsic worth is to say that the individual human person does not have any intrinsic worth. This is to deny that we are endowed with rights by our Creator. To deny that is in effect to deny that there is a Creator. This is atheism and nihilism no less than moral relativism.

Who said this? Who said safeguards for individual liberty do not have any intrinsic worth in the first place?

Let’s rewind this. Hadley Arkes makes some clear, concise points here.

Our late Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, was rightly dubious about the woolly claims made for a “living Constitution.” They were claims made by judges and writers, soaring in high sentiments, but quite untethered to anything in the text of the Constitution or the logic of a regime of law. These were people who appealed, in effect, to a higher law, while usually insisting at the same time that there were no moral truths…

And so Rehnquist, speaking at a law school in 1973, took the occasion to exorcise the demon of natural law. He declared that the protections of human liberty contained in the Constitution did not have any moral standing on their own, with a claim to our respect. These safeguards, he said, do indeed “take on a generalized moral rightness or goodness,” and yet that was not “because of any intrinsic worth nor because of . . . someone’s idea of natural justice but instead simply because they have been incorporated in a constitution by a people.”

To which Professor Harry Jaffa replied with the “scathing commentary” at top. So this came to mind again this week, says Arkes, when reports came out about President Obama’s address to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which invoked the Declaration of Independence. As we know, Obama carefully chooses his words carefully, for what they say, and what they pointedly do not say.

In Obama’s rendering, they ran in this way: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What was left out of course was the “Creator” who endowed us with rights. George W. Bush, not usually credited by the media with high powers of mind, gave a truer version of the Founding principle when he famously observed that “we” did not give these rights to each other. If we gave these rights to each other – if we ourselves were the source of those rights or the authority that conferred – we could just as readily withdraw them. But those rights were thought to spring from the very nature of human beings: that no man was by nature the ruler of other men in the way that God was by nature the ruler of men, and men were by nature the rulers or horses and cows. These rights were thought then to spring from the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

From that perspective, there was nothing incomprehensible in saying that even that homeless man, who may have broken his own life, has an intrinsic dignity. For as diminished as he may be, we used to say that he was “made in the image” of something higher. But now a large portion of our political class shies away from acknowledging that Creator, the Author of Nature’s Laws. And Mr. Obama offers the most faithful reflection of that class and its state of mind.

Arkes points out that Obama’s omission could hardly have been inadvertent. It’s “a kind of soft nihilism, backed into at times” and evidently to discerning ears and minds, at this time by this president.

If rights are not endowed by the Creator, from where do they come?

James Wilson, one of the most thoughtful of the Founders, raised the question: If we have natural rights, when do they begin? And his answer was: as soon as we begin to be. Which is why, as he said, that the Common Law casts its protection over human life “when the infant is first able to stir in the womb.” That line, too, is likely to be omitted from any speech by President Obama.

Especially given his answer when, as candidate for president, Pastor Rick Warren asked him the simple question…”at what point does a baby get human rights?”

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....