“I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”
– President George H. W. Bush
This 4th of July, Americans from all walks of life will come out to celebrate our nation’s independence, as they do every year. Unfortunately, a certain group of Americans, one of the most commonly and casually discriminated against, has met some serious resistance in their efforts to take part in the celebrations. Atheists, many of whom are veterans or active members of our military, have raised over 20,000 dollars as part of a campaign to display pro-atheist messages on plane-mounted banners over 27 locations today. Their campaign has been stalled, mainly due to private pilots’ unwillingness to participate in an activity (flying the banners) that may be perceived by many as anti-religious.
This isn’t an unfounded concern. One man, an atheist, reportedly told CNN that he “won’t fly it because [he] can’t wear a bulletproof vest.” I think this speaks to our nation’s state of mind as a whole, and gives atheists and humanists such as myself all the more reason to become even more vocal.The more we are perceived the more people will realize that we are perfectly normal human beings who have just as much of a right to express our views as anyone else. The more this is realized and embraced, the less likely private businesses will feel the need to discriminate against providing communication services (a banner communicating that atheists too are patriotic, for instance) to nonbelievers.
I am a patriot. I believe that there is great value in the responsiveness of the American democracy, the dynamism of American culture, and the breadth of American freedoms. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who have spoken, argued, fought, bled and died to make such a society possible.
On the other hand, I believe that it is the freedoms of those who are the least popular by which the true extent of American freedom should be gauged. I’m not talking about freedoms that have been guaranteed by our government or our constitution- these pilots are part of the private sector and it is surely their right to refuse service, particularly if they feel it is in the interest of their business. What I’m talking about is the American attitude that makes such a refusal in their interest in the first place.
We have long been a country that prides itself on its willingness to embrace notions of equality and freedom. I choose today to remind the American people that if we really want to aspire to such ideals, if as patriots we really want to uphold the visions of our nation’s founders and our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, it is first and foremost the responsibility of us citizens to embrace and embody them. At this point, no amount of legislative proselytizing or judicial decision-making can ensure our freedoms as effectively as we ensure them for ourselves.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“
-Evelyn Beatrice Hall
As we celebrate the independence of our great nation with food and drink and fireworks, we should remember those ideals that unite us in celebration. We should, as we have, so many times throughout our history, put aside our petty disagreements and toast to not just our personal visions of the American dream, but to the diversity of perspectives on which our great democracy thrives. It is this push and pull that separates us from other nations of the world, many of which suffer from oppressions of majority despite democratic governmental systems. Our nation is a true melting pot and that is why we are capable of overcoming whatever obstacles to freedom and equality we are faced with!
The issue of pro-atheistic banners is sure to rub people of many religions the wrong way, much in the same way religious banners would likely rub atheists the wrong way. If a religious group wants to raise money and fly their own banners they are obviously welcome to do so. Can you imagine the total shit-storm that would commence were a pilot to refuse to fly a banner that proclaimed that Christianity is patriotic?
To reiterate a point that was recently relayed to me by my wife, it is by challenging our perspectives that we create the opportunity to either reform or reaffirm them. We should always seek to challenge our perspectives so that in the end they are well-considered and can serve as a reliable basis for decision-making throughout life. As I see it, even though only 17 of the 85 pilots asked to fly patriotic atheist banners today will actually be flying, that’s 17 more than have ever been flown on any previous 4th of July. I consider that to be a sign of great progress for a society in which a significant portion of the population holds views like this. Thus,I count it as a win not only for Atheism, but for America and American progress.
Painfully. Slow. Progress.