My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.
Scandal-ravaged EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt’s resignation letter is littered with ecclesiastical rhetoric, praising Trump as some divinely-inspired gift of Providence to our nation. Mike Pence is an unabashed theocrat who is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order,” seeking to install Christian Dominionism across America. There is a virulent strain of that theocratic bent in the US military. Senators and Congressmen engage in “prayer breakfasts” to discuss policy agendas. The House and Senate even have “chaplains” that lead the august bodies in prayer.
This Independence Day weekend I encourage Americans to remember that the genius of our founding is that we are the first nation constituted on the shared compact that we hold certain rights to be unalienable, bestowed by our Creator (whatever we understand that to be), and we agree to govern ourselves according to the principles that all men are created equal and government is only just when its powers are checked by those who are governed. The past 242 years have been a series of civil, cultural, judicial, legislative, and sometimes martial battles to live up to those founding ideals against the forces of despotism and tyranny.
One of those unalienable rights is Freedom of Religion. Too many of us, though, read that as Freedom to Worship Whatever Religion You Choose. That is true, but incomplete. Our Freedom of Religion is a right to be free from any coercion by government to participate in religion of any form, a freedom to worship according to conscience or worship nothing at all, free from any government pressure to do so or not.
As an ethnically-Christian Atheist, perhaps I’m more sensitive to the encroachments on freedom of religion than others. I’m saddened by believers who fail to understand that the minute government gets involved in religion even in the slightest, somebody’s religious rights get trampled.
For instance: “In God We Trust.” Most of you see no harm in that. The Supreme Court even said it was not a government endorsement of religion. But to me, every time I have to exchange the legal tender backed by the full faith and credit of my United States, I’m passing someone a note that says we – Americans, of which I am one – trust God.
(I do not trust God. I’ve read the Bible. He is an arbitrary, capricious, vainglorious, violent, and absolutely fictional character. Were he real, I’d trust God no more than I’d trust Donald Trump.)
That phrase on the government’s money cannot be anything but an endorsement that there is a God. Knowing that it was only established in the mid-20th Century as propaganda to distinguish us from our enemy, the godless communists of Cold War USSR, one can only conclude it was and is an endorsement of religion (a monotheistic one).
Sadder still is what “In God We Trust” replaced as our motto, which accurately sums up in three little words what it means to be an American: “E Pluribus Unum.” Latin words to evoke the solemn profundity of our Constitution, which translate to “From Many, One.”
That’s a note I’d be proud to pass along. We’re all Americans – whether native or immigrant, from every racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, ability, language, culture, religion or the lack thereof – and our strength is exemplified in our diversity.
With that in mind, let us resist the crusade of the minority in the country who wish to build walls, stoke fears, and call names to divide us. Let us be fully aware of the encroachment of theocratic tyranny in this land even as we currently battle the rise of nativism, fascism, and despotism under Donald Trump.
Let us also heed the words of James Madison, then a delegate to the Commonwealth of Virginia, 24 years before he became our fourth president. Patrick Henry had proposed a bill that would tax each citizen a small fixed amount to fund the religion of that taxpayer’s choice. Madison was having none of it.
…It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him…
…True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority…
…Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?…
…During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution…
…Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State…
—From “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” by Delegate James Madison to the Commonwealth of Virginia Legislature (June 20, 1785).