by Bill Lehto
But despite having been in the news, and on the money since before I came around, there’s still something jarring and threatening about seeing “In God We Trust” on a government owned car, driven by an officer sworn to indiscriminately serve and protect its community of citizens. That’s my experience at least, as someone who certainly doesn’t trust a god he doesn’t even believe in. And besides any of that, it just seems stupid. What is the point of it? What benefit does it have?
A little research shows that city police departments using this motto are in, at least, the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. If we took out our US maps and colored in those states, the color wouldn’t exactly be spread evenly throughout the country.
But despite my own feelings, it may seem (by itself) not to matter a whole lot. But it's a road we don't want to go down. Hopefully no police are likely using religion as any kind of litmus test for who they help.
But apparently our country’s federal government will be now.
Donald Trump stated on Friday that (following the four-month hold he has put on allowing any refugees into the United States and temporarily barring travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries) the US government will give Christians priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States. That this is a very blatant violation of the separation of church and state—that it is pissing on it and then setting it on fire—is obvious, and others have expounded on this better than I can. But I would like to point to just a few examples of what James Madison, the man known as the "Father of the Constitution" for his central role in drafting and promoting the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution—that same Constitution that Trump and Pence always pledge such allegiance to—had to say about the relationship between religions and government:
“We maintain that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. … Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” –James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments June 20, 1785
“The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.” –James Madison, Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821
Madison, I believe, if he were here today would argue that Christians, not just Muslims, secularists, and other non-Christians, should be terrified about the direction the separation of church and state is going in.
Bill Lehto is the publisher at Freethought House and editor of Atheist Voices of Minnesota.