What’s God got to do with it?

Jennifer Spangler teaches art history part-time at CSU, Chico.

A tribute to local veterans is taking second place to the debate over whether the Founding Fathers intended for government to promote God. At issue is the wordage for the dedication statement that is to be engraved on a new veterans’ memorial in the city plaza.

At the heart of the debate is the proposed phrasing that praises fallen soldiers for protecting “the freedom and liberty we have been granted by our creator.” Some feel this language is unnecessary and diminishes the importance of human sacrifice. Others feel that, if a reference to “Creator” exists in the Declaration of Independence, then omitting it from the tribute would be to revise the Founding Fathers’ intentions and/or to give in to political correctness.

While the Declaration of Independence does include the words “their Creator,” the vast majority of its words speak to certain uniquely American notions that may more appropriately be inscribed on a memorial paying tribute to those who died to preserve the country. The words “unalienable Rights” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” also included in the document refer to the civil rights unique to the United States, which establish individual rights over the rights of an aristocracy, the rights of the state or the rights of the church. Also uniquely American is the notion that citizens have a right to happiness, which is unacknowledged as a governmentally mandated right in most of the world.

How about incorporating the Founding Fathers’ national motto for the United States, “One from many” ("E Pluribus Unum")? The motto refers to the formation of a single country from what was originally a group of colonies and now is a group of states.

Likewise, it could be argued that the U.S. Constitution would provide a more direct guide for local government on the correct phrasing for a veterans’ memorial. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, which was written to justify our break with England, the Constitution was created as the basis for the law of the land and to direct government actions. Neither “God” nor “Creator” is mentioned anywhere in this document. Its most oft-quoted words are “We the People,” a phrase that embodies the notion of secular humanism.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution further mandates a “wall of separation” between church and state. Is it possible that the Founding Fathers recognized the slippery slope created when government and religion combine?

The appropriate words to honor our veterans exist, and they can be crafted through a process that builds instead of tearing apart.