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Remainder of Florida condo demolished: The Declaration of Independence and our veneration for life

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The remaining structure of the Champlain Towers South condo building is demolished more than a week after it partially collapsed, Sunday, July 4, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
The remaining structure of the Champlain Towers South condo building is demolished more than a week after it partially collapsed, Sunday, July 4, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The remaining section of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, was demolished last night.

About half of the structure collapsed on June 24, with twenty-four now confirmed dead and more than 120 still missing. The remainder of the building shifted several inches on July 1, putting rescue workers at risk and prompting the decision to tear it down. 

With the approach of Tropical Storm Elsa, the timetable was moved up to last night. After the demolition, crews immediately began clearing the new debris so rescuers could begin working again early this morning. 

Such tireless efforts to find those missing in this tragedy point to the fact that humans innately venerate human life. Imagine leaving the remains of the victims where they are—it is simply unconscionable. We have a God-given belief that every life is sacred, a conviction that motivated fifty-six men to sign a document 245 years ago that changed history. 

“The noblest, happiest page in mankind’s history” 

A man bought a painting of a country scene for $4 in an Adamstown, Pennsylvania, flea market. When he got it home and inspected it, he found a folded document tucked inside. It turned out to be a Dunlap Broadside, a first printing of the Declaration of Independence made by John Dunlap’s letterpress on the evening of July 4, 1776. It later sold at auction for $2,420,000. 

President Calvin Coolidge would have agreed with its value and more. Speaking on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, he described it as “the most important civil document in the world.” Coolidge explained: 

“Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.” 

Harvard professor David Armitage called the Declaration “the birth certificate of the American nation—the first public document ever to use the name ‘the United States of America.'” He added that it “has been fundamental to American history longer than any other text.” However, he noted that “the Declaration’s influence wasn’t limited to the American colonies of the late eighteenth century. No American document has had a greater impact on the wider world.” 

For example, Armitage quoted nineteenth-century Hungarian nationalist Lajos Kossuth, who called the Declaration nothing less than “the noblest, happiest page in mankind’s history.” 

Judge Starr’s new book 

The argument of the Declaration of Independence rests on five words, “all men are created equal.” This claim is profoundly dependent on the biblical declaration that “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). 

As a result, the Declaration states that each person is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” that government recognizes but cannot confer or remove. These rights include “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” all of which are bestowed on humanity by our Creator. 

No people in history had so fully embraced and incarnated these principles. European nations and their colonies were built on kingships, Muslim nations on caliphs and imams, Asian nations on dynastic rulers, African nations on tribal chiefs. 

As Judge Ken Starr brilliantly explains in his new book, Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty, the American proclamation that all people are created equal gave birth to Great Principles that undergird our democracy: 

  • Autonomy: Churches and individuals have the intrinsic right to govern our own affairs.
  • Accommodation: The law must accommodate culturally accepted practices such as chaplains and public expressions of religion.
  • Freedom of conscience: As Starr writes, “We are a nation of free belief expressed in lawful action.”
  • Equality: Christians have the same rights of access to school grounds and other public spaces as any others.

(For more, I encourage you to read Judge Starr’s indispensable book and my review on our website.) 

How “our country will go on prospering” 

However, as Judge Starr notes, we are seeing a steady erosion today of Constitutional freedoms built on the Declaration: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. The so-called Equality Act is just one example of the escalating threat that considers Christians to be intolerant, oppressive, and dangerous. 

The reason is as simple as it is tragic: our secularized society rejects the authority of God’s word and the morality it teaches. As we saw in the South Florida condominium tragedy, when the foundations are destroyed, the building will collapse (cf. Psalm 11:3). 

The great statesman Daniel Webster (1782–1852) warned: “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” 

How will you “abide by the principles taught in the Bible” today? 

How will you use your influence to lead our nation to do the same?