One of the favorite claims of Christian nationalists is the bogus assertion, most recently repeated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, that “our rights come from God, not government.”
DeSantis pointed out correctly that “the Founders rejected the divine right of kings.” He just missed the fact that the rebellious Founders didn’t only throw out the “divine right of kings,” they threw out “divine rights” altogether.
Adopting the first constitution in the world to be predicated in “We the People,” not on a divinity, wasn’t some oversight but a deliberate act to establish a secular — not a Christian or religious country — where freedom of conscience would be paramount.
In the final version of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, a deist, posited rights as “unalienable”: “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.” Lest you think DeSantis is just rephrasing what Jefferson meant, it’s instructive to look at Jefferson’s original draft, which is as godless as the Constitution:
“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;. . .”
In any case, the real problem is that DeSantis entirely misses the point of the Declaration of Independence, which states “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” “Consent of the governed” is a concept you won’t find in any religious text, much less in the bible.
DeSantis ignorantly asserted to Fox News that “God-given rights” are on “loan” to the government. Well, DeSantis is very busily calling up those “loans.” In fact, DeSantis appears to think he has “divine rights”: to inflict his Catholic views against LGBTQ rights (“Don’t Say Gay”), stymie free inquiry in public schools (“Don’t Say Woke”), declare financial war against Disney for opposing his policies, promulgate anti-science policies in a pandemic (including offering unvaccinated cops $5,000 to move to Florida!), among other lordly actions. His war against academic freedom is targeting not just critical race theory, but Black history studies more broadly, calling it “indoctrination.” His latest proposal would reach into universities, forbidding any general education core courses that present a view “contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence,” which would censor study of Native American genocide and slavery, as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg points out.
Sadly, this country’s founding principles abjectly failed to address slavery, to the dishonor of the signers, even though it was hotly debated, with removal of the condemnation of the slave trade included in Jefferson’s original draft. But under DeSantis’ proposals, even these facts could not be discussed. The Florida governor is following in the footsteps of so many other ill-informed public officials and would-be autocrats.
The Big Lie is all-too-often successful. The lie that the United States was founded by God, that it’s supposedly a “Christian nation,” is dangerously believed by up to 45 percent of Americans today. Fortunately, that Pew survey reporting this statistic nevertheless found that two-thirds of U.S. adults say churches should keep out of politics. As the number of Nones (atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particular”) keeps growing, today at almost one-third of adults and 45 percent of Gen Z Americans, we can continue to work for a country where someday soon, a majority will agree that public officials and candidates should keep “God” out of politics.