The most famous part of the Declaration of Independence says that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are values so precious that they are worth more than our own personal wealth, security and even our lives.
This text was adopted by the second continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 and we celebrate the 235th anniversary of its signing this weekend.
I believe the founders of this country believed that the “pursuit of happiness” included the ability to work and enjoy the result and to enjoy that in the community of other in a civil society with other created humans with equal rights and privilege to do the same.
The founders had not yet understood the full application of these words as they would continue to use the coerced labor of slaves and did not afford full rights, education or voting rights to anyone except white, land-owning, males. Our country has come a long way as it has abolished slavery, gives many rights including schooling to everyone within our borders and full suffrage for those 18 and older.
I hear the theme of pursuing happiness repeated, revived, and renewed when I hear the stories of my friends and neighbors who have risked their own lives by coming to the United States to pursue a better life for their own families, their children, and their children’s children. They have done this of their own will, sometimes with the previlege of doing so within the legal system that inadequately accounts for the number of workers our economy uses. And, other time outside of the legal system that refused to acknowledge the value of each individual being created in God’s image.
As a country we have further to go. Some people living, working, paying taxes and participating in other respects of our civil society are not afforded all of the rights that they should enjoy.
Our declaration goes on to say: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” There are some clear consequences if we really believe this statement. If we believe that everyone should enjoy equal rights and treatment by virtue of our being created in the image of God and that governments derive their power only by consent of the governed and not based on the privilege of class or citizen status, then we have more work to do. Should we not consider how we can more quickly and fully engage and empower people who are working and living in this country rather than have a class of working people who have fewer rights based on the accident of where they were born?
I believe that it imperative for the spiritual and moral foundation that our country is founded upon and made explicit in these words of the Declaration of Independence that we consider fundamental changes in our immigration system that will include legal status for as many people who are present within our borders who have agreed to pursue happiness by working hard and obeying the laws and caring for their families. We must abolish the current system that labels some workers as “illegal” and holds them out of the society that they are actually helping to build with their hard work laboring in fields, factories, and providing needed services to our citizens.
I hope and pray that during this congress, new laws that are compassionate, fair, and decent will be adopted. This should be the year that young people who grew up in this country and call themselves American and pledge allegiance to the flag will be allowed away to make their status right by the passage of legislation such as the DREAM Act. I call on congress to pass new laws. I call on the President of the United States, Barrack Obama to lead on this issue and to sign the legislation into law. Let’s make it possible for all of us to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.