Atheists Who Don’t Like “Under God” Can Leave

Fox News’s The Five features five right-wing political commentators sitting in a circle and discussing the news of the day. It’s sort of like every other show on Fox, except there are five people in the room instead of one or two or three.

On Wednesday, The Five tackled atheism, focusing on a Massachusetts lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The lawsuit caused commentator and former Bush white house press secretary Dana Perino to get angry, saying that she was “sick” of this argument and that atheists who don’t want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance “don’t have to live here.” 

This was followed by the two-minute lightning round of atheist-bashing. Greg Gutfield claimed that atheists should just be thankful for not living in a Muslim country, where they might be killed for their beliefs, while Kimberly Guilfoyle, calling atheists “selfish” and “small minded,” accused them of wanting to be “catered to.” The segment ended, bizarrely, with host Bob Beckel claiming that the last time non-belief was punished was the Salem Witch Trials, followed by a boys’ club swipe at Guilfoyle for being married more than once,

Massachusetts was where the Salem Witch Trials were, remember that was when there was intolerance about not being religious… and I wouldn’t, for example, Kimberly, I never would have prosecuted you for any of your…uh…five husbands.

(Guilfoyle has only been married twice, and Beckel is divorced himself.)

But with the exception of this awkward joke, all The Five’s banter revolved around one central theme: atheists are unpatriotic and ungrateful for what their country has given them. This is perhaps the most popular stereotype about atheists: it’s the “Muslims hate our freedom” of atheist-bashing. For example, just a day prior to The Five segment, Fox and Friends’s Steve Doocy questioned the patriotism of the family that brought the case in Massachusetts.

There’s a central irony to all this: the idea that atheists are unpatriotic appeared around the same time “under God” entered the Pledge of Allegiance. Originally, adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance was intended to assert a sort of pan-religious anti-communist identity. In 1954, President Eisenhower pushed the bill to add “under God” to the Pledge through congress and signed it into law. He also added “In God We Trust” to American money the next year.

Eisenhower’s intention in doing so was to assert a vision of democracy that was based on an inter-religious reverence of God, against irreligious communism. Eisenhower famously said, “Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious belief, and I don’t care what it is.” He even allowed Islam a place in his broad vision of American religion, emphasizing in 1957 the “fruitful relationship” between Christians and Muslims, which was quite progressive for the time. 

Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s idea of the religious basis of American Democracy has historically denied true political legitimacy to atheists. And even as American atheism has been totally disassociated with communism, the idea that atheists aren’t real Americans has persisted.  

This puts atheists in a catch-22: fighting the idea that atheists aren’t patriotic by removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance just confirms for people like The Five that atheists really are unpatriotic. After all, the essence of a good stereotype is that it seldom gives the stereotyped persons a chance to escape said stereotype.

robshry@gmail.com'

Rob Shryock is an author, journalist and editor of the Religion blog "God Is Sometimes Great." He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Religion from Reed College, where he wrote his thesis on Christian Worship Music.