This is a question I’ve read quite a bit in response to the 4th of July flyovers being organized by American Atheists. What does God or atheism have to do with the 4th of July? What is the point? Why does this matter?
It matters in part because it sheds additional light on a huge problem in some parts of the country – namely that in certain areas, it is still considered dangerous to be openly atheist.
This campaign was initially meant to run in all 50 states, but only 26 states will see the “God-LESS America” and “Atheism is Patriotic” banners in their skies this coming 4th. The reason for this is partially ideology – even in this economic climate, there are still plenty of businesses who will still turn away work because of its association with atheism. And while that reality is discouraging, it’s fine by me. Many of these pilots are individuals or small businesses with the right to refuse whatever work they want.
But according to Justin Jaye of Fly Signs Aerial Advertising, who organized the flights for American Atheists in some areas, a pilot willing to fly the banner in some states couldn’t be found for an entirely different reason.
“I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve never run into so much resistance on people flying,” Jaye said. “I’ve had pilots who are actual atheists who said, ‘Justin, I am an atheist and I won’t fly it because I can’t wear a bulletproof vest.'”
And that is exactly why these kinds of campaigns are so important. The argument that everyone has beliefs and that they are all treated equally in America tends to fall on deaf ears when you’re part of a minority which is so hated in some areas, people fear for their lives if they openly help to spread the message that such a minority exists and is as capable of patriotism as anyone else.
Which brings me to the second reason why these kinds of campaigns are still necessary in the United States. The very idea that atheists can even be patriotic is one that is still strongly contested by some religious folks. Consider the recently published parenting book How to Raise an American Patriot by Marijo Tinlin.
According to the publisher’s press release:
Each chapter ends with bullet points on how to raise patriotic kids and the book’s final section summarizes all of these points into one list. A handful of these many helpful ideas include:
- Teach your kids to think for themselves.
- Get involved in civic activities — take them with you when you vote.
- Read the original documents, such as the Constitution, with your kids and discuss what it means to them.
- Take family trips to see our great historic places.
- Teach your kids that God is the cornerstone of our founding and continued greatness.
Along with this strange inclusion of God in the prerequisites for making a good patriot is idea that one of the main issues with the lack of patriotism in America is the fact that:
We have sanitized God out of our founding when He is the reason for our being.
Also, from the official website, there is this quote from one of the 13 contributors:
To be a patriot, you have to have some component of faith. The quintessential core belief of American patriotism, the cornerstone, is the belief that we were destined to be the ‘shining city on the hill.’ You’ve got to have a faith component to really believe that.” – Erick Erickson, “How to Raise an American Patriot”
Regardless of what the author and contributors of this book contend, the fact is that neither religion or lack of religion is in any way needed for anyone to be considered a patriot.
Patriotism has nothing to do with religion. I consider myself a patriot not only because I love my country, but also because I believe America can a better place than it is today, through in part the achievement of equality for everyone and the abolition of privilege in all forms. I believe America has the ability to do better when it comes to poverty and education, but I don’t discredit the fact that this country is still a wonderful place to live. I’m patriot in that I support people’s right to believe or not believe in a god, and I act to protect that right by continually giving support to the idea that government and religion ought to be kept separate, for the protection of all people.
I take an active role in trying to attain those goals not because I hate America or because I lack patriotism, but because I sincerely love my country and I want to help the US be even better than it is today.
You know, liberty and justice for all, and junk.