Bradley  Abramson

In the American Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers proclaimed that we are endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, we have long forgotten what our Founders meant by that now iconic phrase—“the pursuit of happiness”—and, as a consequence, we are now in jeopardy of losing the very liberty our Founders purchased for us at the risk of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Indeed, if we properly understood what our Founding Fathers meant by the phrase “pursuit of happiness,” a photographer in New Mexico, a pastry business owner in Colorado, bed and breakfast owners in Vermont and Hawaii, a T-shirt business owner in Kentucky, and many others, would not have faced government prosecution simply for refusing to violate their conscience by endorsing what they believe is immoral sexual behavior. And religious organizations and business owners across the country would not be threatened with government imposed fines for refusing to provide their employees with abortion pills, thereby becoming complicit in what they sincerely believe to be nothing less than murder.

As these examples illustrate, government is now—in an increasing variety of contexts—forcing us to bow to the altar of state-mandated values and policies, even when doing so violates our religious conscience, and is employing the power of the state to punish us if we don’t.

And to a great extent the problem comes down to our failure to understand what our Founding Fathers meant when they used the simple but profound phrase—“pursuit of happiness.”

In our modern consumer-oriented society, we have come to believe that “happiness” is simply a state of transitory physical or emotional pleasure. Consequently, the great majority of Americans view the “pursuit of happiness” as nothing more than the right to pursue whatever provides them with pleasure, however misguided or immoral that pleasure might be.

But that’s not at all what our Founding Fathers meant when they used the now famous phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence; for what our Founding Fathers meant by “the pursuit of happiness” was the pursuit of virtue, not the pursuit of pleasure.


Bradley Abramson

Bradley Abramson is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.