By Dan Barker
Editor’s Note: For the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is repurposing a column from its Freethought Today newspaper that FFRF Co-President Dan Barker wrote in the immediate aftermath of the horror and that remains as relevant today.
Would you buy a used car from a guy wearing a button that says, “‘I’m an Honest Salesman”?
That’s how I feel about those T-shirts that say, “Proud to be an American.” If you are truly honest, or truly American, you don’t need such fanfare — displays that actually raise the possibility of the opposite — because well, of course, you’re honest, and, of course, you’re proud to be an American. Why bring it up?
They must be bringing it up because they are insecure. Our country has been attacked, many feel afraid and vulnerable, so they wave flags, recite the Pledge and pray “God Bless America.” This feels like brave action, but it is only an illusion that masks feelings of helplessness.
Many of us love this country without the fanfare. My family, like many millions of good Americans, does not believe in God, so we could never honestly say “In God We Trust” or recite the religious Pledge of Allegiance in good conscience, even if we did want to jump on the jingoistic bandwagon.
Where did this doctrine of “unification” come from? What do we think will happen if Americans are not united? America never will be unified, and that’s what we should be proud of. The original motto of the United States, chosen by the nation’s Founders, is “E Pluribus Unum” (“From many, one”), not the 1956 “In God We Trust” nervously adopted during the Cold War against “godless communism.”
“E Pluribus Unum” does not mean “United, we stand.” It means “Divided, we stand.” We are divided into 50 different state governments. We are divided into multiple religious, philosophical, cultural and political factions — yet we stand as a nation. We don’t have to agree. We should wear our disagreements as a badge of honor.
Our Founders were fiercely divided on most issues. James Madison vehemently argued against congressional chaplains. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, also wrote that the words of Jesus were a “dunghill.” Benjamin Franklin called for prayers at the Constitutional Convention, but only mustered interest from three or four delegates — so they said no prayers. Nor did they pledge allegiance to a flag or hold hands singing “God Bless America.”
Yet they manufactured a country that stands as a single nation, in spite of their differences. They never wanted to force unity of thought.
Americans who don’t believe in the foisted motto “In God We Trust” are just as patriotic and just as American as those who do.