There’s a reason why history is important. History is about knowing the truth about our past and therefore about ourselves. Not surprisingly, those who meddle with it usually do so from less-than-noble motives. In the latest edition of First Things, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Robert P. George suggests that the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has been the latest to attempt to re-write – or, more accurately, erase – history by reprinting Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and omitted the words “under God” in their reprinting. Professor George observes:
The Gettysburg Address is the set of words actually spoken by Lincoln at Gettysburg. And, as it happens, we know what those words are. (The Bliss copy nearly perfectly reproduces them.) Three entirely independent reporters, including a reporter for the Associated Press, telegraphed their transcriptions of Lincoln’s remarks to their editors immediately after the president spoke. All three transcriptions include the words “under God,” and no contemporaneous report omits them. There isn’t really room for equivocation or evasion: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—one of the founding texts of the American republic—expressly characterizes the United States as a nation under God.
George goes on to ask why an organization such as the American Constitution Society which, presumably, values the American constitution and other important documents in America’s legal and political history would make such an omission. Even diehard atheists, one might add, who purport to believe in truth should be asking what is going on here. It’s one thing to argue about the precise place of religion and religious-informed belief in the public square. It’s quite another, however, to try and ever-so-slightly distort the lens through which we examine the history of these matters.
Professor George, one of the world’s leading natural law theorists and a leading scholar of constitutional interpretation and civil liberties, also appears in Acton’s documentary, The Birth of Freedom, which likewise underscores the historical role played by religion and religious belief in the American Founding and other key events in America’s experiment in ordered liberty. Again, it’s not a question of whether one is a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist. It’s a matter of accurate historical memory. Nations that deceive themselves about their pasts build their present and future upon the shifting sands of lies and half-truths.