Conservative commentator Michael Medved recently wrote an opinion piece for www.townhall.com, trumpeting that Americans are right to state that they would refuse to elect an atheist for president. Medved’s claim was corroborated by a Zogby Poll, which showed that nearly 80 percent of Americans would not vote for an atheist candidate. However, the question must be asked, why not?
After observing the 2008 presidential primaries, one may conclude that because both an African-American and a woman have become serious contenders for the U.S. presidency, the United States has become a truly progressive polity. However, by using candidates’ religion to overshadow their character, Americans will forever cling to that last thread of intolerance.
This is apparent not only when one of the candidates is an atheist, but virtually any time that the contenders are connected to a religion that strays from Christianity. After all, there is a reason why Barack Obama’s statement that, “I am not a Muslim and I never have been. I never studied at a Madrassa and I have never sworn on the Koran. I am committed to Christianity,” has become a beloved sound bite for liberals and conservatives alike. While the reasons why Americans refuse to back atheist candidates may be too varied to generalize, Medved hurts his own cause through his three-pronged attack in support of the majority of America’s decision.
First, Medved states that an atheist president would inherently produce “hollowness and hypocrisy at state occasions,” specifically when saying “God Bless America” and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. However, what Medved fails to state is that “God Bless America” only became a catchphrase a hundred years after the United States was created. Similarly, “under God” was only written into the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s, after the pledge had been regularly recited by schoolchildren and adults alike without the phrase since 1892.
Such traditions as “God Bless America” and the Pledge of Allegiance played no part in establishing and upholding the United States in its formative years. Consequently, one may conclude that even if an atheist were elected as president and “God” were removed from all American traditions, America would survive.
Keep in mind that unless the United States elects the world’s most “there is no God,” God-hating atheist, these traditions will most likely go unchanged. The word “God” has become associated with various meanings