Now that the Fourth of July celebrations are over, it’s worth asking whether a particular phrase enunciated in the Declaration of Independence is true or false.
The phrase in question? “The pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration states that the pursuit of happiness is a natural, God-given right, one with which all people are endowed. Not just American citizens. Everyone. Everyone in the world is endowed with the natural, God-given right to pursue happiness.
A natural, God-given right is one that precedes the existence of government. As the Declaration points out, such a right is unalienable. That means that it can never be taken away, at least not legitimately.
The Declaration also makes clear that it is the responsibility of government to protect the exercise of such rights, not destroy or infringe upon them. In fact, as the Declaration also points out, when government becomes destructive of the legitimate rights of people, it is the right of people to alter or even abolish it and institute new government.
Obviously, everyone includes people who are citizens of other countries. Everyone in the world is endowed with the natural, God-given right to pursue happiness. That’s what the Declaration observes.
If it’s true — and I certainly believe it is — then why is the federal government arresting, punishing, and deporting foreigners who are pursuing happiness by coming to the United States?
Yes, I know the answer: “Jacob, we have a system of immigration controls.” But let’s keep in mind something important: Natural, God-given rights precede government, and government possesses no legitimate authority to destroy or infringe upon such rights. If government can destroy a natural, God-given right by simply enacting a law, such as an immigration control law, then it really isn’t a natural, God-given right after all. A natural, God-given right cannot be destroyed or infringed upon by any man-made law.
Consider, for example, the natural, God-given right of freedom of religion. People have the the right to worship God any way they choose, or not to worship God. What if the federal government enacted a law that required parents to send their children to church every Sunday, much like the states do with public (i.e., government) schooling? We would all agree that the law would be illegitimate. That’s because the federal government cannot legitimately interfere with the exercise of a natural, God-given right.
Yes, I know that the First Amendment to the Constitution expressly prohibits the federal government from interfering with freedom of religion. But even if that amendment had never been enacted, it would still be illegitimate for the federal government to destroy or infringe upon people’s natural, God-given right of freedom of religion. The First Amendment simply enacts that restriction into law.
What if the federal government required all foreigners who visit the United States to send their children to church on Sunday? Again, that would be an illegitimate exercise of governmental power. Everyone, not just Americans, has the natural, God-given right of freedom of religion, the exercise of which government cannot legitimately interfere.
Moreover, we shouldn’t forget the Ninth Amendment, which expressly points out that there are other rights that people have that are not expressly enumerated in the Constitution. It would be reasonable to assume that among those unenumerated rights is one expressly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence — the right to pursue happiness, a right that adheres to all men and women regardless of citizenship.
The Declaration of Independence points out that everyone possesses the natural, God-given to pursue happiness. That obviously includes foreigners, including immigrants who are pursuing happiness by coming to the United States. If we are going to celebrate the Declaration every year, it’s important that we adhere to its principles.