56 Words by 56 Men

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator 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...

If the Revolution had failed, these words would have amounted to a death warrant for the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence. It is hard to believe that some in our nation would try to prevent school children from regularly reciting these inspiring words. Nonetheless, New Jersey residents are being asked to lobby their state legislators in an effort to defeat a law that would require their children to recite and learn about these fifty-six words from the Declaration of Independence during the school day. Senator Gerald Cardinale and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll were the prime sponsors of the Senate and Assembly versions of the Bill. Both were surprised when the Bill received such a vehement negative reaction.

Opponents have accused the Bill's supporters of trying "to come up with a way of getting God into the public schools." They have complained that focusing on the mention of the Creator requires school children to pay respect to a Divine Being.

Assemblyman Carroll has denied any hidden agenda in sponsoring the Bill and says this legislation is not merely an effort to bring prayer in through the back door. He likens the proposed recitation to using the words "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In order for a bill to become law in New Jersey, it must pass both the Assembly and the Senate. The latest version of the Bill has bypassed the Committee process and is poised for a Senate vote as soon as it is placed on the Senate agenda. The Assembly approved an earlier version of the Bill in May of 1999, but the updated Senate version must be referred back to the Assembly for approval. Senator Cardinale's office is making no predictions. "It's anybody's guess if [the Bill] will pass or not before the [legislative] session adjourns in January [2000]."

Regardless of whether the proposed Bill is enacted in New Jersey, the efforts of New Jersey legislators to pass this law should be applauded. Reciting these fifty-six words from the Declaration of Independence would help school children learn the source of their rights and what it means to be an American.

New Jersey school children would learn that the founders of America acknowledged God. In holding these truths to be self-evident, the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence affirmed that Godís existence required no further discussion or debate. Indeed, at least half of the signers of the Declaration were Christians. Twenty-four were known to be sincere Christians, and four others, whose Christian views are not specifically known, attended colleges such as Harvard which required that "Every one shall consider the main end of his life and studies, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life." (John 17:3)

The reference in these fifty-six words to God as our Creator and the source of our "unalienable rights" was only one of four times that God was specifically named in the Declaration. In the introductory paragraph, God is declared as a lawgiver, the Author of "the laws of nature and of nature's God." This phrase was understood to mean God's law, obtainable through reason and science, and the Law revealed in Scripture. In declaring "that all men are created equal," the preamble refers to God as our "Creator," the source of our "unalienable rights." In the body of the Declaration, the delegates appealed to "the Supreme Judge of the world" thereby recognizing God as judge. Finally, the signers mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence." The courage of America's founders came from the sure knowledge that God was their Protector.

Of course, the opponents of the New Jersey Bill have cited the "wall of separation between church and state" as one reason for not exposing school children to the Declaration of Independence with its foundational Christian principles. But how can the "separation" doctrine, now enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, truly mean that school children should not recite from the document on which this nation was founded?

The First Amendment religion clauses were intended to prevent the federal establishment of a national religion. They were never intended to completely exile God from the government. On October 4, 1999, members of the House of Representatives were recognized for sixty minutes to discuss this very issue during Special Orders on the floor.

Representative Pitts of Pennsylvania noted: "Today the federal government, specifically the federal courts, now use Jefferson's separation phrase for a purpose exactly opposite of what he intended. They now use his phrase to prohibit the free exercise of religion...Rather than freedom of religion, they now want freedom from religion." Representative Aderholt from Alabama opined that the separation phrase "has recently become a federal hunting license against traditional religion in this country." Among the many examples he gave to support this assertion was the refusal of several states to print religious phrases on custom license plates. The State of Oregon refused to print "PRAY",the State of Virginia refused to print "GOD 4 US," and the State of Utah refused to print "THANK GOD." Representative Hayes of North Carolina reminded the nation that "We are not required to conduct government as if God did not exist."

The only explanation as to why anyone would oppose having New Jersey school children recite fifty-six words from the Declaration of Independence is because they want to deny God's role in the formation and legal foundation of our nation. It is time for opponents of the New Jersey Bill to step forward and acknowledge that their true agenda is to re-write history to impose their own anti-God values on America's school children. Parents across this nation need some assurance that what is being taught to the youth of America is "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

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