A letter to Kenzie.

I got this comment on a recent post.

im fifteen years old and i know that this is ridiculous . our country was founded by people who trusted in god . they relied on god to bring them to America . i don’t know what this world has gone to . these people are going through all this trouble because there feelings are hurt because of a name on our money . there are more important things to worry about . like the poisons in our foods that is causing brest cancer , or the amount of ecoli in the meet you by at the grocery store . our government is standing by letting these things go on . people in America do have a say so , its time to stand up and fight for something that matters, something that can make a difference.

Hi Kenzie.  Thank you for the comment.  I know it’s not easy to speak your mind in a forum where most of the people are probably not going to agree with you.  I can respect that.  I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I don’t agree with you either.  But I did listen, and now I hope you’ll listen to me in return.

our country was founded by people who trusted in god

It was also founded by people who were not, at all, Christian (think Thomas Jefferson). It was founded by a lot of people with different beliefs/interests.

It was also founded by people who believed in slavery.  The founders of this nation were not perfect.  How could they be?  That was almost 250 years ago when they didn’t even have indoor plumbing or light bulbs.  It is up to us, the generation that has learned so much since their time, to figure out where they went wrong.  Many of our founder were wrong about slavery, and we shouldn’t be bound by legislation like the 3/5 Compromise because we are married to the ideas of those who signed the Constitution.  Likewise, even if many of them were Christians, it’s entirely possible they were wrong about someone rising from the dead.

Did you know that it wasn’t actually the founders who put “In God We Trust” on our money?  That was Congress in the 1950s, as an attempt to thumb our nose at Russians who, despite the rebuilding of the Russian Orthodox Church, were perceived as being godless.  No, our founders referenced only an ambiguous creator in the Declaration of Independence (not Jesus, Yaweh, or the bible, none of those words are in the Declaration) and made no reference to a god of any sort in the Constitution.  If they had intended us to be a nation based upon religion, this is a somewhat glaring omission.  Many religious groups at the time noted the lack of god in the Constitution and railed against it and, later, the first amendment.  But our Congress held firm.

they relied on god to bring them to America

That’s simply incorrect, Kenzie – they relied on boats.  And they relied on those boats for a number of reasons (like tobacco was a very profitable crop and it was easy to grow in the USA).  One of the reasons they relied on those boats was because in England the church and the government were tightly interwoven.  There was a state church, the Church of England, which imposed sanctions upon the religious beliefs of others well into the 19th century.  Some of the people wanted to form their own sects of Christianity, but could not build churches for their sects in England because the government was behind the official church, so many left for a place where they could worship as they pleased.

And that is why we have the separation of church and state, Kenzie.  If one church is given more power by the government, we run the risk of having them make life difficult for other faiths (and non-faiths, like my atheism).  That is why we have the separation of church and state and why it is obviously a part of our Constitution.  The only way to make sure all religions (and non-religions) receive equal treatment is to keep them separate from the government.

i don’t know what this world has gone to . these people are going through all this trouble because there feelings are hurt because of a name on our money .

I don’t know who told you that we atheists are trying to remove “In God We Trust” from our money just because our feelings are hurt, but they were wrong.  Christians leave comments on my blog and send me email all the time saying mean things in an attempt to hurt my feelings, but you never see me arguing that they should be forbidden to speak.  Sometimes in life our feelings get hurt.  That’s just life, and I acknowledge that.

The reason we’re concerned about that sentence on government property is because we value equality and the separation of church and state.  To quote Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (in Lynch v. Donnelly)…

Protecting religious freedoms may be more important in the late twentieth century than it was when the Bill of Rights was ratified. We live in a pluralistic society, with people of widely divergent religious backgrounds or with none at all. Government cannot endorse beliefs of one group without sending a clear message to non-adherents that they are outsider.

When our currency says “In God We Trust”, what does that say to non-believers?  That they are not part of the population that matters?

Consider how Christians would feel if our currency read “There’s no god, human beings can achieve greatness on our own.”  Or what about “In Allah We Trust”?  Would that be fair?  No, and I’d be the first person to stand beside Christians in opposing something like that.  We’re a society made up of lots of different people, some who believe in god and some who don’t, and our government must represent them all equally.  If you would fight money with my hypothetical sentence on it, and if equality is important to you, then you should fight the phrase “In God We Trust” when it is enshrined by our government.  Private citizens can use that phrase all they want.  They can slather it on their business or put it on their car, but our government must represent everybody.

there are more important things to worry about . like the poisons in our foods that is causing brest cancer , or the amount of ecoli in the meet you by at the grocery store . our government is standing by letting these things go on . people in America do have a say so , its time to stand up and fight for something that matters, something that can make a difference.

Kenzie, you act as if by taking a stand on one problem we are not also taking a stand on others.  I oppose government and religion being intertwined.  I also do advocacy work for people with eating disorders and other mental illnesses.  I also teach voice lessons for free (I used to be an opera singer) because I feel there needs to be more art in the world.  I do not forsake other causes because I have this one.

Religious freedom, freedom from a religion endorsed/mandated by the state, was why a lot of people hopped on boats to America.  That freedom is important, so I hope you at least know why I do it now.  It’s not just for me, it’s for you and every other religious person who enjoys the right of religious freedom.  After all, if atheists came to power, the separation of church and state is precisely what would keep them from treating Christians as lesser citizens or from saying people can’t build churches.  Again, I’d be the first person standing in your defense were that to happen.  I hope, with Christians in power, you will stand with me when the government is treating believers in god as though they deserve special recognition.

I don’t want special laws against Christianity, Kenzie, and I can handle hurt feelings.  But I do want equality from the government, just like the people who sailed across the Atlantic ocean 330 years ago because their government had become too intertwined with a particular church.  I want equality for everyone, including the people I disagree with.  I’m writing you this letter because I think you want the same thing as me, but just didn’t see why “In God We Trust” was our government elevating some citizens over others.

It’s no secret that I have made it my life to convince people that god does not exist.  I don’t expect your help with that.  But if we both want a fair government, then you should want to help me with this (while you’re also fighting breast cancer and working for other noble causes).

Thanks for reading, Kenzie.


  • Bev

    JT- you are awesome.

  • Glodson

    Great reply.

    they relied on god to bring them to America

    What about the slaves? What about the people who died in transit? God dropped the ball on those.

  • BionicWoman

    Very awesome! Well put and voiced eloquently. And free voice lessons? How generous!

  • tubi

    To be fair, many of the religious groups who came here really just wanted the “freedom” to flip the board, to be the majority and outlaw other types of heresy. But I don’t think that detracts from the overall message, which I think hits the nails right squarely on their heads and needs to be made as often as possible.

  • Jasper

    I’d say it’s ironic, but it’s really not, that the secularists are the ones who are doing the most, fighting the most, to ensure religious freedom for everyone.

  • Jacob

    A noble response. Good work.

  • L. Poe

    I wouldn’t mind some acknowledgement she actually read your reply, else all this is just self-gratifying intellectual masturbation.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      You’re wrong. I hope she reads it, but even if she doesn’t other religious people who think the same thing will. Or it will get shared to somebody who is on the fence. That’s the beauty of public replies.

      • Glodson

        And I know that L. Poe is wrong.

        I’m a person who benefited from public responses on various blogs, including this one, during my religious days.

  • Drew

    Personally I’d expect a 15 year old to be better able to type, structure sentences, capitalize and spell than what is displayed here

    • Highlander

      This is what comes of not funding public education adequately. Of course perhaps Kensie is home schooled, you never know. Then again, due to the prevalence of spelling and grammar checkers in any instrument you might write formal papers in, perhaps kids today simply don’t learn to spell or use proper grammar because their computer fixes it for them. Of course, it was harder back in my day. We had to live in a shoebox, middle of the road, and we had to get up at twelve o’clock at night and lick road clean wit’ tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel to eat, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife…


      • Nate Frein

        To me, the whole point of teaching spelling and grammar is so that our children learn how to set down their thoughts eloquently and effectively.

        I’m definitely all for more focus on sentence structure and grammar as a whole, and it does seem to be a bit lacking in schools. I’m not, however, sure we need to be devoting so much time to spelling per se. What I think we should be doing is giving our students a solid grounding in typing and word-processing (as long as we’re pipe-dreaming, a shift from QWERTY to DVORAK would be lovely too). Just like we teach our students to use calculators now instead of slide rules, we need to be teaching them how to effectively use all the tools available to them, and that includes effective use of spellcheck.

        • Nate Frein

          That should read

          *all the word-processing tools

        • Highlander

          Just because a student is taught something in school doesn’t mean they are good at it, a second grade student has been taught to read, but they are likely not very good at it. To become good at something it takes practice. Practice doesn’t happen when a word processor fixes all your mistakes for you. Students need to practice writing without the tools of modern writing so when those tools are unavailable they can still write a paragraph and not look uneducated. Teaching someone to do basic arithmatic on a calculator doesn’t mean they know their multiplication and addition tables, that takes practice and memorization. A student who learns to do basic arithmatic on a calculator knows how to do math on a calculator, take the calculator away and they can no longer do math. Not so with a student who learns their multiplication and addition tables. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach students to use the modern tools, but make sure they can do it without those tools too.

          • http://www.godlessteens.com Godless Teen

            Er, I couldn’t say that I entirely agree with this idea. Personally, I think that (outside of various religious issues that my school has had issues with: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/03/god-is-not-the-solution-to-eating-disorders/), I must say that my school has been teaching the various subjects fairly adequately. I think that the real issue here is a lack of motivation. If students don’t have the motivation to learn in the first place, no amount of practice will *ever* teach them how to be good at something.

          • Nate Frein

            Yes and no.

            In terms of calculators, I was referring to how we teach our children to use them, rather than using slide rules or going and looking information up in an angle table, not that we teach them to replace simple multiplication with calculators.

            All three require the exact same amount of memorization work. The calculator is simply the fastest and most efficient tool.

            Further, I have no problem with teaching children to use tools to replace some if not all memorization work. Those tools are part of our lives. We have them. They are not going anywhere. We should teach our children to use them in ways that give them more time to absorb more important information and make them more adept at adapting to new technologies.

        • Sarah

          Several misspelt words in Kenzie’s comment would not have been caught by a spellcheck. Brest would have, but not there or meet.

    • iknklast

      That was my thought, too. But I teach college, and this is about the high level of what I see in their writing. Most of these students pass their English class; they either don’t retain it outside of that class or chose not to bother with it. I have been forced into the position of insisting that they use complete, comprehensible sentences in my class (biology) because I can’t understand more than about 1/3 of what they write. The scary thing is, while I would have thought this the writing of someone much younger than 15, I don’t find it hard to believe she is 15.

    • laotzu

      You may want to adjust your expectations. Her post was written as well, if not better, than many writing samples I see from college freshmen and sophomores in my courses every day. Thanks to texting and the passive laziness of spell check, written abilities are far below the standards of even ten years ago. Having said that, I thin the post was made in good faith, and the response was elegant. We should think about not tooling on adolecents as hard as we would adults: they’re still reachable – but not through negativity.

  • John-Henry Beck

    I had a friend who, 15 years ago, when I complained about how he’d write that way in some situations, said he thought it was easier. Kind of being lazy in a casual setting.
    Even then I couldn’t really understand that. Adding some punctuation and even capitalization isn’t that much more effort. (And with my phone with auto-correct it’s more work to try to do ‘im’ instead of ‘I’m’, even.) Besides the fact that where you put the comma -does- affect meaning and relying on others to assume which version you meant is, in my opinion, both rude and prone to miscommunication.
    Anyway, I think it’s partly a motivation thing. Not motivated to do it the ‘proper’ way, or making some point about being ‘casual’ or something.

  • Apathostic

    Wow . . . and just like that the discussion is turned to one concerning the writing skills of a 15 yr old. Very impressive piece of hijacking there, folks. You successfully detoured from the point of this piece which, I think, is to help a 15 yr old understand the complexities of an arguement that most adults seem to have difficulty in comprehending. And to that end JT has done a more than admirable job. I hope Kenzie gets to read this and that other people also have the opportunity to at least reflect upon the thoughts raised here. And not necessarily upon a perceived lack of capitalisation and commas.

    • Nate Frein

      Trust me, if there was more to add to JT’s excellent response, people would have added it.

      Get over yourself.

  • Sherry QuiteContrary

    As far as the article goes, many excellent points and I agree with you.

    As far as the student’s writing, if anyone wants to be taken seriously, then grammar, spelling, and punctuation should be correct. As the reader, I should be able to read and understand what you meant. I should not have to weed through misspellings, run on sentences, other grammatical errors, and lack of capitalization.