Mars Hill Forum #39: The ACLU and Unalienable Rights

John C. Rankin

In February, 1997, I hosted Nadine Strossen in a Mars Hill Forum, then president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and also a professor at New York Law School – at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Our topic addressed civil rights for homosexuals, and in her opening address, Nadine quoted the famous words from the Declaration:

“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 – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving there just Powers from the Consent of the Governed …”

So I asked Nadine who the “Creator” is, and she answered that we each have our own “creators.” I said no, that this was a reference to polytheisms, and there is no polytheistic religion in history that has any concept of unalienable rights. They all serve the tyrannies of the various gods and goddesses over humanity, and of their human agents over others. I had never spoken this observation in public before, but in response to such an assertion – common in the culture – I knew the truth already about polytheism.

I continued and asked if she could identify who the Creator is in the minds of the signatories to the Declaration. Nadine asked me in response, “Why does it matter, so long as we protect unalienable rights?” And I answered, “If we don’t know where they come from, we won’t know how to regain them once they’re lost.”

Nadine is a delightful and gracious person, and we have been good friends ever since – and as we have had public conversations on matters where we come from different angles. She affirms unalienable rights as a civil libertarian; it is just a matter of the Source being named.