Herbert W. Titus | November 16, 2007

Oklahoma at 100: Thanks be to God

Herbert W. Titus

I shall never forget the Tulsa Bar Association meeting that I attended in 1979 soon after I joined the charter faculty of the O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University. The meeting opened in prayer!

After a 13-year absence, I had just returned to Oklahoma, having left the state after a two-year stint as a member of the University of Oklahoma law school faculty to return to my native state of Oregon. During those 13 years in Oregon, I had never once attended a public event that invoked the presence and favor of God. Erased from my memory were the two years in the mid-sixties that I spent as a faculty member at Oklahoma where even the university’s football games opened with prayer.

Constitutional Prayer

Today the people of Oklahoma will celebrate their state’s 100th birthday. Will Oklahomans continue their tradition of opening public events with prayer in celebration of the state’s centennial? It would be most fitting to do so, because in 1907 the people of Oklahoma overwhelmingly ratified the state’s constitution, the Preamble of which opens with a prayer for God’s guidance:

Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; to promote our mutual welfare and happiness, we, the people of the State of Oklahoma, do ordain and establish this Constitution.

In contrast, the Preamble of the Oregon Constitution, ratified by her people in 1859, is prayerless, reading: “We the people of the State of Oregon to the end that Justice be established, order maintained, and liberty perpetuated, do ordain this Constitution.”

In today’s increasingly secularized America, the Oregon Constitution fits right in. Few would recognize, however, that the absence of prayer in the Oregon Preamble is decidedly the minority position. Rather, it is the view demonstrated in the Oklahoma Preamble which dominates, representative of the 44 State constitutional preambles that acknowledged God’s hand[1] in the fulfillment of the promise of the nation’s charter—the Declaration of Independence—that America’s “governments” would be “instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”[2] Thus, in the manner as those who had signed their names to the 1787 United States Constitution—120 years before—the officers and delegates to Oklahoma’s Constitutional Convention subscribed their names to the 1907 Oklahoma Constitution:

Done in open Convention at the City of Guthrie, in the Territory of Oklahoma, on this, the sixteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seven, and the Independence of the United States of America one hundred and thirty-first.

The significance of this Subscription Clause, like the one in the United States Constitution, has oftentimes been overlooked.[3] Legally, by including the signatures of its drafters, the clause as a whole attests to the genuineness of the document.[4] Historically, by placing the constitution firmly within the Christian calendar established by Pope Gregory III in the sixteenth century and adopted by England in 1752, it connects the birth of Oklahoma as a State to the birth of Jesus Christ 1,907 years before.[5] Politically, by linking the Constitution to the Declaration of Independence, it affirms that the United States was birthed in 1776 (1907 being the 131st year of the nation’s independent existence).[6]

Subsequently, by their act of ratification of this document, the people of Oklahoma gave their consent to these attestations, having agreed to be governed not only according to the State’s Constitution, but to the nation’s 1776 Charter and the Constitution of the United States, having by that ratification become the 46th State of the Union, admitted on equal footing with the original 13 states.[7]

Unchanging Security

By reaching back to the nation’s founding 131 years before and to the birth of Christ 1,907 years before, Oklahomans not only affirmed their gratitude for the founders' appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” but their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” as stated in the last paragraph of the Declaration.[8] Thus, the nation’s birthday, like that of Oklahoma’s, was sanctified by prayer to Almighty God to whom the people and their leaders looked for protection, justice, and guidance.

According to the Oklahoma Preamble, the people of Oklahoma invoked God’s guidance, foremost “to secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty.” By these carefully chosen words, the people made it abundantly clear that not only their generation, but future generations would rely upon the guidance of Almighty God. Otherwise how would the blessing of liberty be both secured and perpetuated? Thus, from the beginning the Oklahoma courts have affirmed:

The first rule, and the one to which all other rules are subordinate, is that the meaning of constitutional provisions, as understood by those who framed and adopted the constitution, is to be ascertained and given effect. Another rule is that words appearing in the constitution are to be given their plain, natural and ordinary meaning, and no hidden meaning should be looked for by the courts. … Constitutions are not made to mean one thing one time and another at some subsequent time when the circumstances may have changed so as to make a different rule in the case seem desirable. … The meaning of the constitution is fixed when it is adopted, and it is not different at any subsequent time when a court has occasion to pass upon it.[9]

Inherent Rights

Fittingly, the first two sections of Article II, the Bill of Rights of the Oklahoma Constitution, affirms, respectively, the “inherent right to alter or reform the [government] whenever the public good may require it” and the “inherent right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry.”

For a right to be “inherent,” it must be “innate,” inseparable from the very nature of things, or naturally pertaining to. Rightfully understood, an inherent right is not conferred upon the people by the Constitution, much less by the civil government created by that constitution. Rather, an inherent right preexists the constitution, and by its nature is fixed, uniform, and universal. While subsequent sections of the Bill of Rights spell out some of these inherent rights—to keep and bear arms, due process of law, assembly and petition, and so on—Section 33, like Article 9 of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, reminds us that “[t]he enumeration in this Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny, impair or disparage others retained by the people.”[10]

The first inherent right secured to the people of Oklahoma, as stated in Section 2, is the right to life. The security provided to the right to life in Section 2 is more fundamental than the security from deprivation of that right afforded by the Section 7 due-process clause. Section 2 secures to the people the right to be defined as a human being according to the unchanging nature of what it means to be human. In religious terms, Section 2 preserves to all creatures created in the image of God the same right to life, as explicitly affirmed by the statement in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with [the] certain unalienable right to life.” In scientific terms, Section 2 preserves to all creatures with the human DNA genetic code the same substantive right to life. Thus, all human life, from the moment of conception, is equally entitled to the inherent right to life.

The second inherent right is the right to liberty. This substantive right is inextricably interwoven with the very nature of human life. As a human being created in the image of God, every individual is presumed to have been created in such a way as to be able to choose to do right or to do wrong no matter the circumstances.[11] Section 2 is designed to repudiate any claim of power by the civil government over human behavior on the ground that such behavior is determined by a person’s genetic structure or environment or a combination of both. Thus, civil authorities may not take away human liberty on what a person might do in the future, no matter how compelling the “scientific” case.

The third inherent right is the right to pursue happiness, and in doing so, to enjoy “the gains of their own industry.” Contrary to what some modern hedonists contend, the right to pursue one’s happiness is not designed to guarantee to everyone an Epicurean or other self-centered lifestyle of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you will die.” Nor is the right designed to secure to every human being adequate food, clothing, and housing. Rather, the inherent right of the pursuit of happiness is designed to secure to individuals and families the right to “pursue” such creature necessities and comforts through the exercise of the God-given mandate to work. For as the Psalmist says, “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.”[12]

This constitutional guarantee of the right to acquire private property is bolstered in the Oklahoma Bill of Rights by the concomitant right to keep the fruits of one’s own labor. In adopting this provision, the people of Oklahoma endorsed John Locke’s view that, by one’s labor, a person “annexed [to himself] something that was his Property, which another had not Title to, nor could without injury take from him.”[13] By embracing this individual right to enjoy the gains of his own industry, the people of Oklahoma have set a constitutional limit on the taxing and spending powers of civil government to the end that those powers not be employed to redistribute private wealth in pursuit of a utopian goal of economic equality.[14]


Having invoked the guidance of Almighty God to secure these blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it would be most fitting that Oklahomans join together to celebrate their centennial with gratitude to God for the preservation and protection of those inherent rights, and for the grace to preserve and protect them for generations to come.

  • [1]

    See B. Weiss, God in American History, 164-213 (Geddes Press, Pasadena, California: 1966).

  • [2]

    See Frantz v. Autry, 18 Okl. 561, 91 P. 193, 202-03 (1907).

  • [3]

    See H. Titus, The Constitution of the United States: A Christian Document, pp. 9-17 (Chesapeake, VA: 1997).

  • [4]

    Id. at 10-11.

  • [5]

    Id. at 11-13.

  • [6]

    Id. at 14.

  • [7]

    See id., 91 P. at 203-04. See also Coyle v. Oklahoma, 221 U.S. 559 (1911).

  • [8]

    See H. Titus, The Declaration of Independence: The Christian Legacy, pp. 12-14 (Chesapeake VA: 1995).

  • [9]

    Wimberly v. Deacon, 144 P.2d 447, 450 (Okl. Sup. Ct. 1944) (emphasis added). Accord, Latting v. Cordell, 172 P.2d 297, 401 (Okl. Sup. Ct. 1946); Draper v. State, 621 P.2d 1142, 1145-46 (Okl. Sup. Ct. 1980).

  • [10]

    Okl. Const., Article II, Section 33 (emphasis added).

  • [11]

    See Mark 7:14-23.

  • [12]

    Psalm 128:1-2. Accord, Psalm 127.

  • [13]

    See J. Locke, The Second Treatise on Government, § 32 (Cambridge Univ. Reprint:1965).

  • [14]

    See id. at §§ 46-51.

Herbert W. Titus

Herbert W. Titus, a cum laude graduate of the Harvard Law School, is of counsel to the McLean, Virginia law firm of William J. Olson, P.C. He specializes in constitutional litigation, appeals, and legislative strategy. Prior to entering into the full-time practice of law, Mr. Titus taught constitutional law at five different law schools, including the University of Oklahoma and the O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University.

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