SENT VIA US MAIL AND FAX
Congressman Charles B. Rangel
2354 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC 20515
Dear Congressman Rangel:
On behalf of members of our national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) which works as a state/church watchdog, I am writing to let you know that your July 21 speech on the floor of the House of Representatives and your July 22 email and official "In God We Trust" posting on your website, were unnecessarily exclusionary to the more than 15% of the U.S. adult population that is nonreligious (American Religious Identification Survey 2008). FFRF has more than 16,600 members nationwide, including more than 960 New York State members, many of whom are your constituents. Nonreligious citizens are consistently made to feel like political outsiders when politicians assume all voters must believe or trust in a god. It is time our elected officials catch up with America’s changing demographics, and stop treating nonbelieving Americans as unworthy of inclusion.
Our membership comes from diverse points of view politically, and although we are a nonpartisan group, I know many of our members personally admire, as I do, your advocacy work on behalf of Americans who are indigent, in need of government-funded social services, and whose lives are jeopardized by cuts promoted in the debt ceiling debate. This letter is not about that debate nor is it a critique of your advocacy. It is a simple request that you recognize how another significant minority — the nonreligious — are marginalized and treated as outsiders and lesser citizens through the thoughtlessly exclusionary religious remarks by politicians.
Your emailed statement reads, in part: “Now is the time when we really need God to guide us to do the right and moral thing. . . . Saying ‘In God We Trust’ is a constant reminder that we respect our court system and the Supreme Court, but in the final analysis, it's the higher authority of morality that should be guiding all of us.” [emphasis added]
Our members have two concerns over this kind of gratuitous religious commentary by elected officials. First, we would wish that elected officials were not only more sensitive to their nonreligious constituents, but were better informed on the constitutional history of the separation between state and church. You took an oath to uphold an entirely godless and secular constitution, whose only references to religion in government are exclusionary, and which specifically precludes a religious test for public office. Our founders were revolutionary in placing sovereignty not in a deity, but in “We, the People.” “In God We Trust” is a johnny-come-lately motto, adopted belatedly by Congress in 1956. For most of U.S. history, America's motto was the purely secular “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many come one”), chosen by a distinguished committee of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. From a practical point of view, “In God We Trust,” to be accurate, would have to say "In God Some of Us Trust" — and wouldn't that be silly?
It did not mitigate the exclusion of nonbelievers because your statement also alluded to the Koran (“Believe in Allah…”), as well as the Bible and Torah, but rather compounded the exclusion. America is not just for religious Americans.
Second, tens of millions of good American citizens reject the idea that morality comes from a supernatural law-giver in the sky. Freethinkers (those of us who use reason in analyzing religious claims) believe that humankind has to solve its own problems, and must do so using ethical principles that do not derive from mindless dogma. To be ethical, one must weigh the consequences of one’s actions and whether or not they cause harm — not to the uneasy vanity of a chiding deity, but to real human beings. Reason, fairness and compassion are needed to surmount the current financial crises in America, not piety. Nor do we believe that it is wise to argue morality or politics from supernatural authority, because there will always be contrary supernatural authority. Notably, your political opponents cite the same god as you do when they oppose social services funding. (Abraham Lincoln pointed out the irony, in his famous speech noting that both sides of the Civil War prayed to the same deity and invoked the same bible.) Belief that “God is on my side” is one of the most common sources of political strife, violence, bloodshed and warfare. Believing we will be rescued by a supernatural force, to whom we should turn over essential civil problems to solve, is counterproductive to good governance. Public officials should get off their knees, quit beseeching an imaginary deity to solve problems, and get to work!
It is not necessary to invoke religious authority to argue your case — we need look no further than the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Annie Laurie Gaylor