Will you be celebrating Natural Law this July 4th? You should be. Your Founding Fathers did.
declaring their independence and asserting their God-given rights, the
Founding Fathersparticularly the pen of Thomas Jeffersonacknowledged
the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” These were no minor things.
Indeed, maintained the Founders, you were entitled to them. (These were
days when an entitlement meant something rather than any new thing.) The
Founders believed that, in the course of human events, they had at long
last arrived at that point where they and their countrymen could
rightfully assume these rights “among the Powers of the Earth.” They
were not only declaring their independence from the British Crown
(itself a huge deal); they were asserting self-evident truths and
claiming certain unalienable rights that were theirs not only as
Americans but as humans.
So, what of this Natural Law stuff? What did and does it mean? And why does it still matter?
can be no doubt that those delegates in Philadelphia who adopted that
Declaration believed in, and based the nation’s independence on, the
Natural Law,” states Robert Barker, professor emeritus of law at
Duquesne University, and an eloquent expert on the subject. Addressing
the American Founders Lecture Series, held quarterly at Pittsburgh’s
Rivers Club by the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College,
Barker defines Natural Law thusly: “God, in creating the universe,
implanted in the nature of man a body of law to which all human beings
are subject, which is superior to manmade law, and which is knowable by
The Natural Law as understood by the Founders,
says Barker, was the same that for two millennia had been a “traditional
and essential” element of Western civilization.
the point, Barker marshals the likes of Aquinas, Sophocles, Aristotle,
and Cicero. Among them, he cites Sophocles’ play Antigone, where the
heroine (of the same name), condemned to death by an unjust king,
informed the king that he was violating a superior, natural law. “I had
to choose between your law and God’s law,” she told the king, “and no
matter how much power you have to enforce your law, it is
inconsequential next to God’s. His laws are eternal, not merely for the
moment. No mortal, not even you, may annul the laws of God.”
Aristotle put it, the Natural Law is a universal law that transcends
earthly regimes and stands common to all human beings, “even when there
is no community to bind them to one another.”
Cicero saw Natural
Law as true law. He wrote: “True law is right reason in agreement with
nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting…. It
is a sin to try to alter this law … and it is impossible to abolish it
entirely.” He added that “whoever is disobedient” to the Natural Law “is
fleeing from himself and denying his human nature.”
Law is profound and profoundly true. Sadly, it has been profoundly
ignored and rejected by modern liberals/progressives and the nation as a
whole. We could rattle off a litany of examples, but a major one
occurring right now is the issue of “same-sex marriage.” The idea of a
man and a man or a woman and a woman marrying one another is an
unequivocal violation of the Natural Law. It is an arrangement gravely
contrary to human nature. Unfortunately, today’s liberals/progressives
could care less; they are fine with happily embracing any and all
violations of Natural Law in pursuit of their own new, enlightened laws.
It’s part of that glorious “fundamental transformation” of America.
liberals/progressives, there are countless millions of ordinary
Americans who likewise could care less. Their idea of America and July
4th is hot dogs, beer, and fireworks. Natural Law? Sounds boring.
it isn’t. Few things are actually as exhilarating, uplifting,
redeeming. Think about it: the Creator implanted in youthat is, in your
very naturea body of truth and law to which you and all human beings
are subject; it is superior to manmade law, and it is accessible and
knowable by human reason. Sounds like something worth knowing.
(Editor’s note: A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)