Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

It was 242 years ago when America's colonial leaders declared their independence from a tyrant who trampled their rights and usurped their self-rule. They outlined 27 specific violations citing a "long train of abuses" reaching back a decade to the Stamp Act and decided the relationship was irretrievably broken. So on July 4, the Founders declared us a new nation.

They fought for God-endowed human rights, "government by the consent of the governed," and appealed to "the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions." So as we watch the fireworks stream across the night sky to celebrate our independence, it's worth asking: what are we fighting for today?

Social indicators say we are at war with ourselves. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control 19,362 Americans were murdered in 2016. Nearly twice as many—44,965 people took their own lives that same year, making suicide the second leading cause of death for 10-34 year olds. Not all death is immediate. Some are killing themselves slowly through opioids and other deadly drugs.

Illicit drug overdoses claimed 63,632 American lives in 2016. Nearly two-thirds were opioid related. In comparison, between 6000-8000 American Patriots were killed during in the Revolutionary War. An additional 17,000 died from disease.

While Redcoats are no longer quartered in private homes and their muskets no longer threaten us, the battle over rights is fought on the domestic front. Today's hottest controversies revolve around Constitutional issues of Second Amendment gun rights; Fifth Amendment rights to life and due process; And Article 4 Section 3 border security. So the storm clouds gather over Justice Anthony Kennedy's Supreme Court replacement.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has become a catalyst for social change. Some of it good like Brown v. Board of Education which integrated our public schools. Some rulings not so good, like Plessey v. Ferguson and the separate but equal doctrine which necessitated Brown in the first place. Without doubt, much of what the court has achieved in recent decades has been highly controversial.

SCOTUS struck down every state anti-abortion law in its Roe v. Wade ruling (1973); Ten Commandment's displays in public school classrooms in Stone v. Graham (1980); Student led prayer in Santa Fe v. Doe (2000); state marriage laws in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). The Court has become a super-legislature and successfully launched a Second American Revolution in our understanding of rights and freedom.

In his 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy said "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." That rationale kept abortion in place while appealing to post-modern desires which paved the way for same-sex marriage and gender-identity rights. 

Of course, there needs to be a final arbiter in disputes rising to the federal level. But are modern Court rulings in line with the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and all its grand pronouncements?

The Founders relied upon "the laws of nature and of nature's God" and understood that the Creator must be central to a healthy political and social order. Their gift was to weave into our political fabric God as the giver of our rights and fixer of moral boundaries without establishing a church or mandating religious belief. This radical social philosophy was the proverbial political shot heard round the world. And it's worth celebrating this Fourth of July.

This column appeared in the July 2, 2018 edition of Kentucky Today.