I am an Agnostic Atheist. This means that though I do not think that a god (or gods) exist, nor do I subscribe to any religious or spiritual beliefs, I am open to the idea that something beyond my understanding may exist and have the sort of powers ascribed to a deity. Interestingly, while I’ve long “been out” as a pansexual woman, it’s only recently that I’ve started to openly label myself an Atheist. This is partially due misunderstanding the meaning of the word, but more importantly, I have been reluctant because of fear.
When I asked my Facebook friends what their faith was I received a whole slew of different replies including LeVayan Satanism, Eastern Spirituality, Islam, various forms of Christianity, and a decent group of “Agnostics.” I now find it amusing that a goodly percentage of these people – my friends – actually fall under the umbrella of Atheism, and that a majority of them do not follow a Judeo-Christian religion. Of course, a major factor in the responses has to do with the fact that I am heavily liberal and attract liberal people in return.
Since then, I have spent a lot of time exploring religion, looking for a place where I fit in. I had always believed that faith would give me a kind of comfort I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) experience otherwise, being a typically anxious person. I followed the instructions of various religious figures: I read holy texts and prayed about their authenticity, skimmed pamphlets, I asked Jesus into my heart, I questioned my friends about their beliefs, I did my research, but nothing comforted me. Worse than that, nothing rang true.
In my search I ran across Atheist writings and videos. I listened to YouTubers such as AronRa, Thunderfoot, Armored Skeptic, and The Bible Reloaded to name a few. I learned about our world and watched debates such as that between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I watched and listened as person after person debunked religious concepts and utterly destroyed the most fundamental believers. And through all of this, I watched as these people were attacked for their efforts: told that they hated a God that they didn’t believe in, or that they were being paid by some Satanic group bent on destroying the poor, persecuted Christians.
Christians who clamor about their rights being taken away and about how prejudiced everyone is against them, despite making approximately 70-77% of the United States’ population. And yet this clear majority is threatened by those few people – as low as approximately 15% or as high as around 20% – who actually admit their lack of belief: The Atheists, the Agnostics, and the Nones.
When someone from the smaller, non-religious group dares to suggest that the majority is taking advantage of their power by using the religion as a factor in business or in government, it is all too common that a meltdown ensues. This occurred recently when I spoke up about the motto “In God We Trust” being displayed on police cars in Chambers County, Alabama. Accusations and insults quickly began to fly:
“You’re trying to deconvert us!” Or, alternatively, “You’re trying to convert us to your religion of Atheism!”
“I’ll pray for you,” often followed by, “You’re going to Hell.”
“Well, we like it this way, and there are more of us.”
“Don’t look at it / read it / think about it if you don’t like it.”
“Worry about something more important.”
“You’re disabled so you don’t count.”
“Why do you hate God?”
For the record, I live in Alabama. Mobile County, to be exact. According to Wikipedia, an astounding 6% of Alabamians are non-religious. According to the good people of Chambers County, this 6% should close their eyes, cover their ears, and close their mouths (yes, I was told to “shut up” many times during our discussion). It didn’t matter that I – and others – explained that we had absolutely no problem if they plastered “In God We Trust” all over their personal effects, nor did we have a problem that they, themselves are religious, they took our concerns as a direct attack on their Sheriff, their County, themselves, and their religion. They argued that “Separation of Church and State” wasn’t in the Constitution word-for-word and therefore didn’t count and that “Freedom of religion” didn’t mean “Freedom from religion.”
One reason the display of this motto is contrary to the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the United States is that it suggests governmental support of a particular religion which is against the Establishment Clause. In the phrase “In God We Trust,” “God” is a proper noun, indicating the Abrahamic (or Judeo-Christian) God and barring in religion that uses other names or titles for their deity, and completely ignoring beliefs without deities or those without religion at all. Our founding fathers, fleeing religious oppression in England, were careful to establish a Republic in which our government remained neutral in matters of religion, no matter what the majority does or does not want.
These complaints are neither new nor do they come out of the blue. Take, for example, the case of Glassroth v. Moore in which a Chief Justice of Alabama was removed from office for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from federal ground, again suggesting governmental approval of a particular religion. A similar issue involves Public Officials, such as police officers, and wearing religious artifacts in public. If, for example, a police officer were to wear a crucifix or a Star of David in a visible manner it suggests official support for that religion and may alienate the public that these officers are meant to serve and protect. This came to court in Daniels v. City of Arlington, Texas in which an officer was prohibited from wearing a cross while on duty because it takes on “a different cast when viewed on the context of a police uniform” which “is not a public forum for free speech.”
Kim Davis is another prime example of religious belief infringing on federal policy. Imagine how our society would function if every city, state, and federal worker only did those parts of their jobs that lined up with their own personal beliefs and morals. J.T. Oney hits the nail on the head in his article “Oh Kim Davis, Religion, and Our Founding Fathers” featured on The Mountain Eagle:
Soldiers fight wars they may disapprove of, lawyers prosecute or defend laws they may disagree with, and the law enforcement officials of this county don’t get to decide which people they serve and protect based upon religious considerations. Each of these individuals swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Like the soldiers, lawyers, and lawmen of this country, Kim Davis, as Rowan County Court Clerk, also swore the same oath and does not get to pick and choose what aspects of the Constitution she can support based upon her reading of the Bible. To allow her to reshape her duties in accordance with her religious belief begins to look a lot like a “state established religion.”
Though I live in a religious state, that does not change the fact that our country was never intended to be anything other than secular. In William McCarthy’s excellent article “Why the First Amendment Requires Separation of Church and State” featured on keysnews.com, he explains:
The framers of the U.S. Constitution designed a government that would be neutral toward religion. The one single mention of religion in the Constitution is this: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (Article VI). In other words, no public official shall be required to believe in a religion. Even the oath to be taken by the president does not mention God (Article II, section 1, paragraph 8). The framers intended their government to enforce no religious belief whatsoever.
So this brings me back to the subject of our motto: “In God We Trust.” That four-letter phrase suggests that every single United States citizen trusts in God, including me. When you slap it up on the walls of a federal building or on the bumper of a police vehicle, you suggest that our government is in support of this theocratic idea: not only does everyone who works in that building, or every officer that drives one of those cars, trust in God, but they expect your average citizen to as well.
So what if something goes wrong? Is it because you – or I – didn’t trust God enough? Is it because God wasn’t on our side or because he works in mysterious ways? If we’re supposed to trust in God, what right do we have to question our God-inspired government? If our government endorses God, then should I assume that God endorses our government? At which point do I lose the right to ask questions? And this – exactly this – is why we do not live in a theocracy or even a democracy, but a Republic in which we have laws to limit the power religion – any religion – holds sway.
This is why I cannot stand behind “In God We Trust.” Instead, I support “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning “Out of Many, one.” Unlike “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum” makes no assumptions about the population it represents. “E Pluribus Unum” doesn’t care what your religion, skin color, age, health, ability, or political affiliation is. Rather than alienating members of our society, this motto includes everyone. Under “E Pluribus Unum” the American people come together, as they should, to create a stronger nation.
This is not a new motto. First suggested in 1776, it now resides on the Great Seal of the United States, can be seen on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in downtown Indianapolis, is found at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., and can be seen on one dollar bills and various coinage including the 2009 – 2011 minted Lincoln Cent (a.k.a. The Bicentennial Penny) as well as the 2011 quarter. “E Pluribus Unum” is patriotic and it includes all of us, including the non religious.
About the author: Adgee Harville is a 31-year-old atheist who currently lives in Mobile, Alabama with her fiance and their large clowder of cats. She has a (useless) B.A. in English from UC Davis that she mostly uses to argue with Conservatives and Fundamentalists online. Though disabled, Adgee fills her time volunteering with groups like E Pluribus Unum, where she admins the Alabama Facebook Page, as well as various Narcolepsy and Chronic Pain groups. Her hobbies include reading, collecting all things Marvel, playing video games, and hoarding toys.