The difference between patriotism and violating the First Amendment

Greetings from the Cashew Chicken capital of the world!  For anyone wondering whatever became of the dust-up between me and the sheriff of Mountain Grove, MO—don’t worry.  I will be publishing a follow-up to that story when I have all the details compiled.  In other news, there have been some truly startling events since the last time we spoke, haven’t there?  From local politics to Syrian refugees, the internet has been abuzz with arguments for and against human decency and equality.  And all the while, the (not remotely) subtle machine of Christian theocracy has been rumbling on, threatening to destroy our way of life, one little chip at a time.

I refer, of course, to the bizarre motto of these United States of America—.  “But, Craig,” I hear you ask, “What’s so bizarre about the national motto?  It’s on our money after all, and it was passed by an act of congress to be the official motto of the country.”  You raise some interesting points.  I might even call them valid, if we lived in the vacuum that the constitution-deniers all claim we live in.  “And Craig, didn’t the Supreme Court rule that the motto is only ceremonial deism, and not indicative of any specific religion?”  Yes, I reply.  That is correct.  At the time of that ruling, the motto was found to be primarily used in a deistic context, correlating with many of our founding fathers’ beliefs.  Is this still the case, though?  When these police officers, sheriffs and city councilors are encouraging IGWT to be plastered on our public property, are they simply implying a generic deity, with no specific religious meaning?  I would have to say, having witnessed (and been involved in) numerous exchanges on Facebook comments pages that this is NOT the meaning that is intended, implied, or flat-out stated.

Take for example, the case of Facebook comments concerning this subject.  I have not been silent in this matter on social media, but no matter how many actual historical facts I supply to the supporters of this constitutional atrocity, I am routinely met with comments like this:

“Stop arguing..bottom line. ..get right with our only judge n that is GOD up above all of us…so police want to have this sticker on they’re car…he’s not the judge past that traffic stop…amen.”

And:

“It’s God We Trust.  Not the world.  Jesus is the way of life.  He is the truth.  Trust God with all thy understanding. That is why it is on the squad cars.”

When faced with responses such as these, it is clear to me (and to many of us here at the Original Motto Project) that the intention of these IGWT supporters is to elevate their preferred religious belief over that of everybody else.

“But Craig,” I hear you ask.  “Is it really a violation if private citizens happen to hold these values as important?”  No, I reply.  The guarantees every citizen the right to hold illogical or even bigoted personal beliefs and even to express those beliefs publicly.  However, when those opinions lead to policies that clash with the rights of citizens who have different or nonreligious beliefs, then it becomes a violation.  Take for example the case of one Louisiana school.

When approached by the American Civil Liberties Union about the legality of having IGWT in front of the school, Ridgewood Middle School’s administration took the legally correct and constitutional step of removing the motto from the school’s marquee sign.  That should have been the end of the story, but the students of this middle school (who are clearly in desperate need of a better civics education) “rallied around the motto.” They passed out t-shirts that had been specially printed with pictures of a sword lain over a bible and the hashtag #iStand, clearly an indication of one particular religious belief being superior to all others.  According to one article, “The principal was so moved by the students’ unity that he decided to restore the “in god we trust” while lawyers review the issue.”  It might come as a surprise (to the principal) to know that the administration of a public school receives their salary from taxpayer dollars, and as such are the direct representatives of the state and city government.  Therefore, the principal did not have the authority to place the unconstitutional motto back on that marquee.  This is, again, a sign that a better civics education is vital in our public schools (although the likelihood of that happening in this middle school seems slim, as the man responsible for that education clearly needs it himself).

At the time of this writing, this virus of theocracy masquerading as patriotism has spread to at least 168 different sheriff’s offices and Police Departments throughout the nation.  Many of the violators seem to be deliberately “tweaking the nose” of their detractors, but some of them seem to genuinely not understand how there could be a problem.  For example, the sheriff in Polk County GA, Johnny Moats, had this to say about the motto:

“I don’t know why an atheist is so upset about us putting up “in god we trust.  I’m not saying that they trust god.  I’m saying that we, as the guys in this department who put this on our cars, we trust in god.  And why is that a bad thing?  Even if you don’t believe, you know god’s all about good.”

Sheriff Moats
Sheriff Moats

 

The number of blatantly incorrect assertions in this single statement is staggering.  I’ll leave off for the moment how he can claim to know what an atheist knows about his deity.  I’ll even ignore the idea that trusting in a deity is automatically not “a bad thing.”  By attaching this motto to the publicly funded sheriff cruisers, he is making one of two possible statements.  Option one: as the national motto, IGWT represents everyone; therefore he is stating that all citizens trust in god.  Option two: The sheriff and his deputies trust in a specific god to get them through their day, and this is a personal statement that only directly impacts them.  Neither of these options is supportable by the constitution of the United States.  A national motto should represent all of the citizens, and I’m proud to say that IGWT does not represent me.  As a personal statement of faith, it has no business being on public, taxpayer funded property at all.

And yet, we see (and will likely continue to see) town after town, county after county, and city after city succumb to the apparent temptation that is IGWT.  They can’t seem to help themselves.  It’s almost as if these people belong to a religion whose stated purpose is to proselytize and spread to every part of the earth, and that they feel entitled, as members of that religion, to ignore everyone else’s opinions and beliefs in favor of their own.  And it’s almost like they have been told for centuries that theirs is the only truth, and that they have the obligation to share that with others (whether they want to hear it or not).  Thankfully, our founding fathers envisioned problems like these cropping up, and they fashioned this nation to be a secular democratic republic—free of the burdens of state-sponsored religion and dedicated to keeping the wall of separation between church and state as formidable as possible against those who would endorse theocracy.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: this infringement upon our rights CAN NOT stand!  I will continue to fight to combat the disease of theocracy with my final breath, if need be.

Image: Polk County Sheriff’s Office

Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald is an author and advocate for liberal values living in Springfield, Missouri. He is technically less than a year away from his bachelor’s degree in English Literature with a Linguistics minor (although he has been on a sabbatical from school for almost a decade) He published his first novel, KINDRED, in eBook format in 2014 (and is furiously working on the sequel—and 7 other novels in his increasingly sparse spare time). He has been a staunch supporter of LGBT rights, Civil rights and every other kind of human rights. He has been outspoken in opposition of rape culture, gun culture, and victim-blaming of all stripes. Since childhood, he has been deeply concerned with the separation of church and state, and has spoken out against public religious displays (e.g. the 10 Commandments) and the labeling of government property with the divisive motto, “in god we trust.”