That magnificent document whose existence we celebrate tomorrow, on the Fourth of July, was the result of great minds, great hearts and a great God who was watching over this nascent nation.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormons) believe this firmly and deeply. We believe that the Lord Himself was moving and shaping events for centuries so that this promised land known as America could produce a government that would serve as a model of freedom and democracy for the world.
Long before the Founding Fathers, philosophers and religious leaders suggested that man's freedom to act for good or ill -- what we Mormons refer to as "free agency" -- was God's premier intention in creating mankind in the first place.
Wrote Dante in his classic 14th century book, The Divine Comedy: "The greatest gift that God in His bounty made in creation, and the most conformable to His goodness, and that which He prizes the most, was the freedom of the will, with which the creatures with intelligence, they all and they alone, were and are endowed."
Certainly that was the expressed view of the majority of the Declaration's signers as noted in the Declaration of Independence: 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."
In that influential and stirring pamphlet, The American Crisis, which famously began -- "These are the times that try men's souls" -- our fellow Virginian Thomas Paine concluded: "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated."
Historically, religious scholars know that in the 1800s members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were persecuted by both state and federal governments, forcing a refugee flight en masse to Utah, yet they and current members, along with many others across this great nation, are fervent advocates of the Constitution and believe it was "divinely inspired."
"We consider that the men in the Revolution were inspired by the Almighty, to throw off the shackles of the mother (British) government, with her established religion," Brigham Young declared. "For this cause were Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and a host of others inspired to (their) deeds of resistance, (in order) to bring to pass the purposes of God, in thus establishing a new government upon a principle of greater freedom, a basis of self-government allowing the free exercise of religious worship."
The freedom that the Founding Fathers envisioned was ultimately one that could only be based on law. "None love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license." John Milton wisely noted. Ours is not the freedom to always do what we would like, but to do what we ought to do. It is a freedom based on morality, because it must be based on responsibility. Without the "banks" of law, the American river of freedom would become nothing but a fetid swamp.
As we celebrate the birth of this great nation, may we well offer up in reverent song the wonderful poetic prayer by Samuel Francis Smith: "Our father's God to thee, Author of liberty, To thee we sing. Long may our land be bright. With freedom's holy light. Protect us by thy might, Great God, our King!"
Written by: Dale Van Atta a former nationally-syndicated columnist with his partner, Jack Anderson, Van Atta directs the LDS Institute program, a weekly evening scripture study for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Loudoun County.