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Celebrating Fourth of July Without God

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Tea-Party presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann has yet to announce a running mate -- many hope that time will never come -- but it has become clear that Bachmann's platform boasts a crowd favorite by her side: God.

"Did God tell you He wanted you to run for the Minnesota State Senate, or something like that?" asked CBS News' Bob Schieffer on this week's edition of "Face the Nation."

"I prayed about that, as well," Bachmann said. "And that's really what that means. It means that I have a sense of assurance about the direction I think that God is speaking into my heart that I should go."

A staunch Christian, a Planned Parenthood detractor and an outspoken protestor of gay rights, Bachmann is selling herself as the people's choice, the chosen one, the all-American girl. (Tom Petty recently protested this sentiment, asking Bachmann to refrain from using the song in relation to her campaign.) Bachmann and the Tea Party may have deemed themselves the country's true patriots, but millions of religion-free Americans will honor their country this Fourth of July with dignity, respect, and goodness.

Instead of focusing on nationalistic fervor, humanists tend to take a broader view of inhabiting a world made up of one people. Some Americans assume humanists and atheists are unpatriotic, but with freethinkers spending more time trying to unite people across cultural and political boundaries,nothing could be further from the truth.

Humanists certainly value principles that our nation was founded on, which include freedom of -- and from -- religion. This also includes a commitment to equality, compassion, and the same willingness to challenge authority that helped America secede from the British. Humanists' moral patriotism is a challenge to another myth, that one that assumes people cannot be good without a belief in God.

Philosopher Paul Kurtz agrees that the goal of humanistic morality "is the enhancement of the good life: happiness and well-being for the widest number of individuals." Kurtz mentioned some years back that this goal is not limited to our humanist minority. "This point of view came into prominence [in Europe] during the Renaissance; it is expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and indeed in virtually every modern democratic system of ethics. People may dispute the meaning of happiness, but nonetheless most humanists say that the good life involves satisfying and pleasurable experiences, creative actualization, and human realization." Both religious and nonreligious people can share this goal. To reject it would be downright unpatriotic.

This may give some insight into why atheists, humanists and other freethinkers are so active during the Fourth of July. And this year it seems that nontheists are being more active than ever.

The American Humanist Association is sponsoring a Fourth of July call to humanists and other nontheists to "come out of the closet of non-belief" in an effort to educate and raise humanist awareness. The AHA mailed over 15,000 "Happy Human" pins to members in June to encourage them to proudly identify as a humanist to their friends, family, and co-workers. The "Happy Human" is a symbol recognized around the world that represents humanism--the idea that you can be good without a belief in a god.

American Atheists is also sponsoring July 4th aerial banner planes reading "Atheism is Patriotic" and "God-LESS America." Dave Silverman, President of American Atheists, said that the purpose of the banners is to "highlight the fact that atheists are everywhere, in every parade, on every beach, and in every state, city, and town." While the group was aiming to have planes fly with their message in all fifty states, about half unpatriotically declined American Atheists' request to exercise their free speech with this message.

Free-thinkers across the country are coming together to support the secular heritage of the holiday, including the Humanists of North Puget Sound, the Greater Worcester Humanists and the Secular Humanist Society of New York. Groups are having picnics, parties, and other celebrations to be part of the day's festivities.

Bachmann and the Tea Party may believe that they have the patriotic market cornered, but nontheists know this isn't the case. Today more than 15 percent of Americans identify themselves as nontheist; 35 million people who no longer feel attached to traditional, outdated religion. The Fourth of July presents ample opportunity for all nontheist Americans to "come out of the closet" and openly identify as such. As Silverman said, "what better time than Independence Day weekend to speak up peacefully and declare 'Yes, we're all Americans?'"