Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

What Is The Point of The American Atheists 4th Of July Banners?

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”

Yeah!  Remember manifest destiny and what that was used to justify?  That sure is something to be proud of.

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.


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Mike Gillis

I love the last two sentences of that letter to the editor. “I don’t care if I can’t draw a line between you atheists and crimes that are committed, it’s all your fault!” …How? Do we give off magic evil voodoo energy like the One Ring? Again, another great example of Christian privilege. “There’s more of us than you, so we own this place!” I only wish that this attitude was rare. We speak out and become vocal as atheists, because of the visceral reaction we get not only from fundamentalists, but from a lot of liberal and moderate believers… Read more »

Mike Gillis

The power of Poe compels you!

Mike Gillis

If you’re wonder why we’re saying Poe. It’s from a general rule called “Poe’s Law.”

— Parodies of religious fundamentalism are indistinguishable from the real thing. —


It’s definitely time to take the anti-commie contrived “In God We Trust” slogan off your money if it is confusing people that much.

In my country, we have the Queen of England on ours, but we don’t go around saying “Oi lads, take a Captain Cook: it’s the fecking queen! We must be in Blighty, across the bleedin’ pond!”


Not a problem. Sorry for the link only post. Heading out from work and had the wife waiting on me.

Matthew Medina

I might be the only one, but the language of the one ad does bother me: “Atheism is patriotic”. How is it patriotic? I agree Beth with your last statement that “Patriotism has nothing to do with religion”. I would also include that to say that patriotism has nothing to do with non-religion also. I wouldn’t mind if it said “atheists are patriotic”. But atheism is neither patriotic nor anti-patriotic. It’s probably a minor point (I’m a bit of a noodler when it comes to precision of language), but this particular gaffe kind of had me scratching my head. I… Read more »

Tech Writer D

You’re absolutely correct, author (I don’t know your preferred personal address).

Believing in the good of our country doesn’t have anything to do with believing in a god. But unfortunately, as you pointed out, many people don’t realize that.

As for the pilot, I can empathize with his fear for his personal safety; I live in Kansas, where it seems as though society it regressing.

Tech Writer D

…society *is regressing.

Mike Gillis

I would have prefered something liked “Religion Doesn’t Own Patriotism” or something inclusive that doesn’t make a ridiculous statement that makes little sense.

I tend to prefer the “Atheists can be patriotic/moral/kind, too!” model of messaging, myself.

It gets the point across that religious folks don’t hold a monopoly, while not implying that we have a monopoly either.


Saying atheism is patriotic makes as much sense as saying christianity is patriotic. It’s annoying when theists make an illogical claim to try to prove a point…and it turns out it is just as annoying when an atheist does it.

Mike Gillis

A couple other suggestions could be:

“We’re patriotic atheists!”

“We’re atheists and we love the USA!”

Stuff like that that’d actually make sense. I’d glad they’re doing this, but I wish they’d thought out the language a bit more.

Mike Gillis

But getting back to Beth’s major point. Look how innocuous our messaging can be and still be considered controversial or a potential for death threats.

This is why the Atheist visibility movement is necessary.


“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.”

It almost sounds like he’s saying you can’t realistically believe that America is the “shining city on the hill” unless you’re willing to believe something without evidence. How very patriotic of him.

Mike Gillis

I’d say that real love means accepting something for what it is, warts and all. Not putting on rosy tinted glasses and pretending it’s something that it’s not.

Becky Friedman

To Beth, Mike, and Matthew: I was much in agreement regarding the “Atheism is Patriotic” banner. David Silverman of American Atheists did a neat interview for Seattle’s KOMO radio a few days ago explaining why atheism is patriotic. While I like other slogans better, Silverman’s explanation puts me more at ease. To hear it, check out Rich and Deanna’s, since they cut a really nice segment about it. And happy Independence Day!


Just listen to the David Silverman interview on livingafterfaith. Still not sold on the atheists are patriotic banner nor the explanation for it, that atheists are the only true patriots. But hey, atheists don’t have to agree on everything and I do think it’s great that they are flying pro atheism banners on the 4th.

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