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.

JT

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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