The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a near-total ban on abortion. Under the terms of the measure, which has already passed the state Senate, anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion would face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The procedure would be permitted only in certain crisis pregnancies.
This is bad enough. Now consider how Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), the measure’s sponsor, defended it: He cited the Declaration of Independence.
“The Declaration of Independence states that our rights come from our creator, and that among those rights is the right to life, and that governments are instituted to secure those rights,” Dahm said in a media statement. “It is far past time that the government of the state of Oklahoma defend the right to life.”
Dahm’s statement is only the latest in a string of Christian nationalists attempts to press the Declaration into service for their theocratic agenda. It doesn’t work. Here are three reasons why:
First, the Declaration isn’t a governance document. It’s an eloquent statement to the world, giving notice that America intended to be free from the British Crown and soliciting the support of other nations. The Constitution is our governing document. Why doesn’t Dahm cite that? Probably because it provides no sanctuary for his theocratic dreams.
Second, the Declaration is far from a Christian nationalist blueprint. There are four deistic references in the Declaration, but they are exactly that: deistic. Terms like “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the world” and “divine Providence” aren’t uniquely Christian and don’t even hint at an officially Christian government. (And by the way, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration, is responsible for only the first two of these references. The other two were added by an editing committee.)
Third, the Declaration is a document that opposes tyranny. It’s the expression of a people yearning to toss off the yoke of an oppressive foreign government. It is inconceivable that a document that so strongly condemns political tyranny would give safe harbor to spiritual tyranny.
Andrew L. Seidel, AU’s vice president of strategic communications, dissects the language and meaning of the Declaration in depth in his 2019 book The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American. Writes Seidel, “Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin and the Continental Congress could have chosen to root the entitlements, endowments, appeals, and protections in Jesus Christ or any other specific god, but they did not. Instead, they carefully selected references that do not specify any religious denomination or sectarian belief. These were deliberate men who knew they were drafting a monumental and historic document; they chose their words carefully. As University of Chicago constitutional scholar Geoffrey Stone put it, ‘in acknowledging Nature’s God, the Creator, and Divine Providence, the Declaration carefully and quite consciously eschewed any invocation of the Christian religion.’”
The Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest statements of human liberty ever penned. It’s all about freedom. That’s why it’s so ironic to see it being used to buttress policies that subject people to narrow and repressive forms of theological control.