We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As much as they have shaped American history, these words in the Declaration of Independence will continue to shape its future. While the revolutionary war they sparked may be long over, the battles for liberation they inspired are not, as the last two centuries have witnessed one disenfranchised group after another build on their foundation to win equal rights and equal protection under the law. By exposing the hypocrisy that one group’s rights were regarded as “self-evident,” while others were not acknowledged at all, abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights activists, and disabled rights advocates have all invoked the Declaration of Independence and the eternal principles it espouses in their own quest to realize its promises and help us to build a more perfect union.
And yet there are still billions of beings who do not yet have the rights we demand and accept as “inalienable” for ourselves. There are still billions of beings who—though they may differ from us in some ways—share the things which, as the Declaration proclaims, are the things that matter most: the desire to live, to be free, and to be happy. In these significant ways, humans and non-human animals are identical. Aren’t they entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Of course they are.
And if history is any guide, someday soon those rights will be guaranteed. In just a few generations we ended monarchies and replaced them with democracies. In a short time historically, we went from the Pony Express to the Internet, and from a slave-based society to one that elected an African American as our President. We outlawed child labor as well as segregation, we prohibited gender discrimination and granted marriage equality. Once the path to a more compassionate future was cleared for them, most people who did not have a vested interest in the status quo pursued it willingly, because they saw it as better, and that kinder, more enlightened view became the new norm.
As an American inspired by our society’s ongoing moral evolution, I look forward to a future where every animal will be respected and cherished, and where every individual life will be protected and revered.
A toast to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… for all of Earth’s creatures.
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