Watch CBSN Live

In Search Of 'Independence'

Renowned defense attorney and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz has set his sights on defending a new client, the Declaration Of Independence.

In his latest book "America Declares Independence," he explores the document's history, theology, and political theory in search of its true meaning.

Dershowitz not only attempts to demystify the document but to "retrieve it for all Americans," he toldThe Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. Read an excerpt from the Introduction.(PDF)

Dershowitz says the document has been "hijacked. The religious right is claiming that Thomas Jefferson, of all people, the author of the Declaration, tried to build a bridge between the Bible and the Constitution." Dershowitz says Jefferson did not believe in the Bible: "He thought it was, he used a terrible word, 'dung,' to describe it. He believed that the god of the declaration was nature's god. He didn't believe in prayer."

Though Jefferson called himself a Christian, Dershowitz points out a more accurate interpretation of his religion would be a "deist, perhaps a Unitarian. Some people would say a secular humanist. I want to issue a challenge to the religious right, to the Falwells of the world, to Joe Lieberman, to debate me on the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence. We should teach our children what the faith of our founding fathers really is. And the faith was in science and in reason and not in the Bible," Dershowitz says.

Yet at the same time the Declaration of Independence, in fact, invokes a creator. Dershowitz says at that time people were not atheist. People were divided into two groups.

"The big division was between people who believed that the Bible was the word of God, and that churches were the place to worship God, and people like Thomas Paine, and Washington, and Adams, who believed that God was a God of nature, that he set the world in motion, and that he didn't intervene, and that prayers aren't answered, and that was the division in those days," Dershowitz explains.

Drawing on the personal letters and published writings of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and others, Dershowitz points out that Paine even wrote a book called, "The Age of Reason," "which trashed the Bible.

But he believed in God. Thomas Jefferson writes to his 17-year-old son Peter Kar and says, 'It's time; you should study the Bible. Read it like you read, don't believe every word of it. And if you come away not believing in God, that's fine. Because believing in God is like believing in Euclidean geometry,'" Dershowitz says.

Jefferson's suggestion was religion should be studied only when one reached adulthood, because it is propaganda, Dershowitz notes, "You know these great books that have been written about Adams and others, they airbrush this stuff, because people are religious today in America, and you want to believe that our Founding Fathers were men of faith. Jefferson hated faith. He said don't put your faith in the Bible. Science, reason, observe."

The separation of church and state was also very critical, Dershowitz says, because back then we were "fighting a revolution not only against England but against Europe.

"Every single country in Europe had a dominant clergy. In fact on the 50th anniversary, he died on the 50th anniversary, just weeks before he wrote his final letter, and he said the Declaration is supposed to unchain us from monkish ignorance and superstition of the kind that has chained Europe and allow reason to prevail. America will be the great land of reason, not of the clergy."

At least one of the critics of Dershowitz' book says he is speculating about Jefferson and the Declaration to get his own political viewpoints. But Dershowitz says that is not the case.

"I'm Jewish. Jefferson doesn't have very much good to say about the Old Testament. He doesn't like the Old Testament, the vengeful God, the Ten Commandments. My view comes from his letters. It's the truth. It's what research revealed and it doesn't always support my view. Jefferson was very strongly opposed to, for example, gay rights, homosexuality. He supported, as we know, the continuation of slavery. I'm not a complete fan of Jefferson. But let's learn the truth about the Founding Fathers," he says.

Other books by Dershowitz are: "Why Terrorism Works" (2002); "Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age" (2002); "Letters to a Young Lawyer" (2001); "Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000" (2001); "The Genesis of Justice," (2000); "Just Revenge" (1999); "Sexual McCarthyism" (1998); "The Vanishing American Jew" (1998); and "Reasonable Doubts" (1996). "The Advocate's Devil" (1994)- Dershowitz's first novel - was made into a TV movie.

Also in 1994, Little, Brown & Company published "The Abuse Excuse," a provocative collection of essays examining the relationship between individual responsibility and the law. His other full-length publications include "Contrary to Popular Opinion, Chutzpah" (No. 1 New York Times bestseller), "Taking Liberties: A Decade of Hard Cases, Bad Laws, and Bum Raps;" "Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case," and "The Best Defense."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue