I’ve often wondered just what the liberal mantra “social justice” means. We hear the expression repeated just about every time there is a discussion about politics and the political parties, and it’s usually used to defend various government programs and so-called “entitlements,” such as Medicare and Social Security, and now Obamacare.

However, the term is never actually defined, except to claim that the various social programs are a “right,” based on the notion that they are somehow guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence with the words “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain ‘unalienable rights,’ that among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So, if social justice is a right, it has been created somewhere in our history by some sort of legislative act. But, to my knowledge, it has not.

The term “unalienable rights” is defined as those rights that can’t be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else, such as the government or to another person. Such rights are often considered “natural” or “God-given” rights (e.g., life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness).

However, inalienable rights are those rights that can be transferred only with the consent of the person to whom they belong.

“Endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” is the phrase that is famously associated with the Declaration of Independence. Its intent was to express the truth that every person is a creation of God and has certain rights, simply by the virtue of being created by God. Therefore, those unalienable rights or privileges can’t be transferred or taken away by any man. Those rights as conceived in the Declaration are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This means that Thomas Jefferson and the other writers of the Declaration wanted people to believe that God created human beings who have certain rights that should never be taken away, specifically life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They avoided the word “God,” using instead “creator” to avoid religious disputes because they were preparing to move away from government-sponsored religion.

All of which makes it possible to claim that “social justice” means anything anyone wants it to mean, in whatever situation they want it to apply.

Economist Walter Williams commented: “Most people whom we elect to Congress are either ignorant of, have contempt for or are just plain stupid about the United States Constitution. … Here, in part, is the oath of office that each congressman takes: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same …’

“Here’s my question to you: If one takes an oath to uphold and defend, and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, at the minimum, shouldn’t he know what he’s supposed to uphold, defend and be faithful to? If congressmen, judges, the president and other government officials were merely ignorant of our Constitution, there’d be hope — ignorance is curable through education.

“These people in Washington see themselves as our betters and rulers. They have contempt for the limits our Constitution places on the federal government envisioned by James Madison, the father of our Constitution, who explained in the Federalist Paper 45: ‘The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce. … The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.’”

Thus, the claim that the Declaration of Independence provides the basis for social justice is not just wrong, it is actually a perversion of the intent of America’s founders.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.