One of the most persistent myths the Freedom From Religion Foundation has to dispel is the one that says America is a Christian nation. Which, if you believed the myth, basically means that non-Christians and nonreligious people aren't really "real Americans," with all the rights accorded to full citizens.
Religious-right adherents like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the 50-odd (and we do mean odd) members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus (which somehow, only evangelical Christians seem to belong to) rarely take a day off from pushing their Christian-nation claim. And it's not just the religious right: President Barack Obama often ends speeches with a hearty "God bless America."
Akin to the Christian-nation claim is one that religion is being shunted to the sideline in the U.S., despite all the evidence to the contrary. Houses of worship are everywhere in the U.S., where about 2,000 radio stations air exclusively Christian programming. There are also many, many religious educational institutions, from preschool through college.
What the Foundation wants, and works tirelessly to achieve, is a level playing field for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. In an August 2009 issue, Newsweek's religion writer Lisa Miller started her piece this way: "America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history)."
On May 6, FFRF rolled out a new series of informational ads on city buses in Madison, Wis., where it's based. The ads highlight the fact that America was founded on the principle of separation of state and church so that we may have freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. FFRF's secular "founding fathers" theme includes these messages of inclusion:
- "The United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." (John Adams)
- "Question with boldness even the existence of a God." (Thomas Jefferson)
- "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." (John F. Kennedy)
- "Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." (James Madison)
- "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." (Thomas Paine)
- Here's a really big one: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (U.S. Constitution, Article 6, Section 3)
Contrast those statements to these:
- "I'm not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he's an atheist, he's not eligible to serve in public office," H.K. Edgerton, a former Asheville NAACP president told the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. Bothwell was elected last November to the City Council. Article 6, Section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution states: "The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."
- "I think we should kind of keep this clean, keep it simple, go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant. They're quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments. It's pretty simple." (Sarah Palin)
- "The guy who is praying to Muhammad's God is not praying to my God. By participating in such a service, I would be offering approval to Muhammad's God as equal to my God." (Rev. Gregory Johnson, Utah Prayer Day coordinator)
- Multiculturalism and non-Christian principles endanger "the protective hand of God that's been over this country." (former Idaho U.S. Rep. Bill Sali)
- "It is God's finger that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is God's country." (Glenn Beck's commencement speech at Liberty University)
In 1983, the Foundation placed what is believed to be the first nontheist bus sign anywhere, in Madison, after successfully stopping a state-church violation by the city-operated bus company. Madison Metro had placed free ads for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's club, that said "Keep Christ in Christmas." FFRF's first bus sign, "The Bible: A Grim Fairy Tale," was followed in December 1984 with a bus sign that showed a delighted Virgin Mary running out of the stable while exclaiming, "It's a Girl!"
Often, the Foundation is contacted by members in a particular city or area who want to counter religious propaganda with secular truth and reasoning. FFRF accepts those donations and uses its expertise to mount local ad campaigns.
"It really is encouraging that more and more people are no longer falling for this 'Christian nation' malarkey," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "We've seen the results in other countries of theocratic rule, and it's not a pretty sight."