Free Julian Assange

Exposing official lies: that is Julian Assange’s “crime”

Chris Hedges

Today I saw this speech by Chris Hedges and decided to share it here for all my readers. Julian Assange is being punished for truth-telling; punished as an example to others who might also seek to tell the truth; punished in a way that exposes the repression of a justice system that offers injustice to those who dare to challenge the powerful. “Tyranny imposed on others is now imposed on us,” Chris Hedges says in this speech. I urge you to read it, listen to it, and ponder his words. W.J. Astore

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Merrick Garland and those who work in the Department of Justice are the puppets, not the puppet masters. They are the façade, the fiction, that the longstanding persecution of Julian Assange has something to do with justice. Like the High Court in London, they carry out an elaborate judicial pantomime. They debate arcane legal nuances to distract from the Dickensian farce where a man who has not committed a crime, who is not a U.S. citizen, can be extradited under the Espionage Act and sentenced to life in prison for the most courageous and consequential journalism of our generation.

The engine driving the lynching of Julian is not here on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is in Langley, Virginia, located at a complex we will never be allowed to surround – the Central Intelligence Agency. It is driven by a secretive inner state, one where we do not count in the mad pursuit of empire and ruthless exploitation. Because the machine of this modern leviathan was exposed by Julian and WikiLeaks, the machine demands revenge. 

The United States has undergone a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion. It is no longer a functioning democracy. The real centers of power, in the corporate, military and national security sectors, were humiliated and embarrassed by WikiLeaks. Their war crimes, lies, conspiracies to crush the democratic aspirations of the vulnerable and the poor, and rampant corruption, here and around the globe, were laid bare in troves of leaked documents.  

We cannot fight on behalf of Julian unless we are clear about whom we are fighting against. It is far worse than a corrupt judiciary. The global billionaire class, who have orchestrated a social inequality rivaled by pharaonic Egypt, has internally seized all of the levers of power and made us the most spied upon, monitored, watched and photographed population in human history. When the government watches you 24-hours a day, you cannot use the word liberty. This is the relationship between a master and a slave. Julian was long a target, of course, but when WikiLeaks published the documents known as Vault 7, which exposed the hacking tools the CIA uses to monitor our phones, televisions and even cars, he — and journalism itself — was condemned to crucifixion. The object is to shut down any investigations into the inner workings of power that might hold the ruling class accountable for its crimes, eradicate public opinion and replace it with the cant fed to the mob.

I spent two decades as a foreign correspondent on the outer reaches of empire in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. I am acutely aware of the savagery of empire, how the brutal tools of repression are first tested on those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” Wholesale surveillance. Torture. Coups. Black sites. Black propaganda. Militarized police. Militarized drones. Assassinations. Wars. Once perfected on people of color overseas, these tools migrate back to the homeland. By hollowing out our country from the inside through deindustrialization, austerity, deregulation, wage stagnation, the abolition of unions, massive expenditures on war and intelligence, a refusal to address the climate emergency and a virtual tax boycott for the richest individuals and corporations, these predators intend to keep us in bondage, victims of a corporate neo-feudalism. And they have perfected their instruments of Orwellian control. The tyranny imposed on others is imposed on us.

From its inception, the CIA carried out assassinations, coups, torture, and illegal spying and abuse, including that of U.S. citizens, activities exposed in 1975 by the Church Committee hearings in the Senate and the Pike Committee hearings in the House. All these crimes, especially after the attacks of 9/11, have returned with a vengeance. The CIA is a rogue and unaccountable paramilitary organization with its own armed units and drone program, death squads and a vast archipelago of global black sites where kidnapped victims are tortured and disappeared. 

The U.S. allocates a secret black budget of about $50 billion a year to hide multiple types of clandestine projects carried out by the National Security Agency, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, usually beyond the scrutiny of Congress. The CIA has a well-oiled apparatus to kidnap, torture and assassinate targets around the globe, which is why, since it had already set up a system of 24-hour video surveillance of Julian in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, it quite naturally discussed kidnapping and assassinating him. That is its business. Senator Frank Church — after examining the heavily redacted CIA documents released to his committee — defined the CIA’s “covert activity” as “a semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists.”

All despotisms mask state persecution with sham court proceedings. The show trials and troikas in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The raving Nazi judges in fascist Germany. The Denunciation rallies in Mao’s China. State crime is cloaked in a faux legality, a judicial farce.

If Julian is extradited and sentenced and, given the Lubyanka-like proclivities of the Eastern District of Virginia, this is a near certainty, it means that those of us who have published classified material, as I did when I worked for The New York Times, will become criminals. It means that an iron curtain will be pulled down to mask abuses of power. It means that the state, which, through Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, anti-terrorism laws and the Espionage Act that have created our homegrown version of Stalin’s Article 58, can imprison anyone anywhere in the world who dares commit the crime of telling the truth.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight against powerful subterranean forces that, in demanding Julian’s extradition and life imprisonment, have declared war on journalism. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight for the restoration of the rule of law and democracy. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to dismantle the wholesale Stasi-like state surveillance erected across the West. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to overthrow — and let me repeat that word for the benefit of those in the FBI and Homeland Security who have come here to monitor us — overthrow the corporate state and create a government of the people, by the people and for the people, that will cherish, rather than persecute, the best among us.

Transvestism as a Cultural Phenomenon and a Political Issue

Tony Curtis with Marilyn Monroe, “Some Like It Hot”

Richard Sahn 

Discussions and readings about social deviancy are exciting in the liberal arts college classroom. One example of deviant behavior in contemporary American society I always looked forward to discussing is trans-vesting. The word means cross-dressing, intentionally wearing the garments culturally designated for the opposite sex, a taboo violation depending on where you live.

In a hypothetical society where men and women are not socially or even legally restricted in what they can wear it would be impossible to cross dress or trans vest. In most Western countries today, it is very difficult if not impossible for women to cross dress. The reason should be obvious:  it is now acceptable for females to wear clothing, such as trousers, once meant only for males. On the other hand, in a Muslim culture or community a woman can, indeed, cross dress if she wears, say, coat and tie.  Transvestites like to argue that if a woman can wear “male” clothing why can’t men wear “female” garments?

I’m not a transvestite myself so how did I become invested in the subject and, more importantly, why am I such a fan of transvestism? It all started when I asked a friend of mine who knew a transvestite from New York City to invite someone he knew to speak to my sociology class when I was covering social deviance. At the end of the class where he spoke, I interviewed him on tape. According to Michael, the guest speaker, and to subsequent research I did on the subject, there are five psychologically significant reasons why men trans vest:

  1. Auto-eroticism: When a transvestite looks at himself in the mirror, he becomes physically attracted to himself. The image in the mirror is an alter-ego. Perhaps a masturbatory fantasy.  No dating service required. And no flowers.
  2. Benign rebelliousness: Cross-dressing is a type of rebellion against mainstream society.  The transvestite is a rebel with a cause.
  3. Attracting other males (the drag queen). Most transvestites are heterosexual, but a sub-category of cross-dressers are gay males who, while in drag, want to be with other males. And there is a sub-category of this sub-category, namely, gay transvestite males who desire other males in drag.
  4. Sociological envy: Getting more respect or attention appearing as a female. The cross-dresser may feel that he lives in community that is more concerned with the rights of girls and women than with boys and men. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield always used to say as part of his stand-up act, “I get no respect.” (Perhaps Rodney shouldhave become a transvestite.) 
  5. Finally, female impersonation by a male actor on stage, such as the old Milton Berle and Flip Wilson shows or Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the movie, “Some Like it Hot.”

As a straight male I welcome the cross dresser. I want to live in a society, or at least a community, where LGBTQ+ is acceptable, maybe even encouraged. Frankly, I take delight in people who exhibit forms of unconventional behavior and desires which are harmless to the public. They are a relief from those who consistently conform to conventional dress code norms.  I simply feel freer, socially and even legally, to engage in unconventional behaviors and conversations.

Spare us from the xenophobes and haters in politics who would return us to the “respectable” conformist behaviors of other eras.

Clarifying Notes

A transvestite is not a transsexual. The latter is a person who literally changes physically, and to some extent, physiologically to the opposite sex—the so-called sex change operation. The transvestite male only identifies temporarily as a female and thus usually has no problem using restrooms designated for males. (Of course, he might have a problem if he is still dressed in drag with other males thinking he is female.)

Why do some people, notably men, fear transvestites? My guess is that they see the male in drag as a threat to their masculinity or male identity, especially if they have the slightest desire (perhaps on an unconscious level) to wear female garments.

What about legal rights for trans people? My position is that in any society people should be free from the fear of being abused for appearing the way they want to appear. Anyone who abuses another person for his/her/their appearance should be subject to fines or imprisonment.

Richard Sahn, a retired sociology professor, is an occasional contributor to Bracing Views.

SCOTUS Overturns Roe v Wade

W.J. Astore

So much for the idea of “settled law” and judicial precedent. The Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) has overturned Roe v Wade by a 6-3 majority vote. For nearly 50 years, abortion was legal in America if not always cheap or readily accessible. Now roughly half the states in America are poised to make it illegal, a major setback for women’s rights and bodily autonomy.

Many things will be written about this decision, and in fact I’ve already written about it. But one thing is glaringly obvious: this is a thoroughly politicized court of justices, several of whom perjured themselves before the Senate during their confirmation hearings.

Oh sure, they all talked carefully, saying neither “yes” nor “no” when it came to Roe v Wade. But the new justices all made noises about respecting previous court decisions, like Roe v Wade, suggesting that they wouldn’t reach a sweeping decision to overturn it. Of course, it was all BS, and many people knew it at the time. Speaking of “grooming,” recent SCOTUS justices have been groomed for decades to ensure they are against abortion and for business and corporations.

We now have a thoroughly partisan and mean-spirited court majority that will always side with business and corporations against the individual and who apparently believe that guns have far more rights to privacy and autonomy than women do.

A 6-3 majority court that embraces and advances gun rights while denying privacy and bodily autonomy to women is truly an American court.

A small coda: Shame on the Democrats for not codifying Roe v Wade into law. Even when Obama had a super-majority and promised abortion rights would be his first priority, he waffled because he just didn’t care. Now Democrats will cynically use this SCOTUS decision to raise funds. It’s just my opinion, but they’ve proved by their gutless inaction that they deserve none of your money.

The clock is spinning backwards, America. Will it stop in the 1950s — or the 1850s? And don’t forget that the 1850s were both bloody and led directly into the U.S. Civil War (1861-65).

Another small coda: I hate the calculated cowardice of these decisions that are announced on Fridays as a way of trying to limit controversy and outrage, as people’s attention is distracted by weekend plans. Dropping the bad news late on a Friday — it’s a tired approach by cowardly institutions.

One final saying: I think an anonymous female taxi driver had it right: If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Abortion and Men

W.J. Astore

“My body, my choice” is a common refrain for women in the pro-choice movement. I happen to agree with it. What women choose to do when they get pregnant is truly none of my business.

Photo by Alex Brandon, AP

Yet the abortion debate swirls and twists and roars as if men played absolutely no role in getting women pregnant. As if all pregnancies were some kind of immaculate conceptions.

Our society and culture puts almost all the onus and responsibility (and, often enough, blame) on women for getting pregnant. For pro-lifers, a woman, once pregnant, is then obligated to have a baby and care for it until adulthood, else put it up for adoption.

But what about the father’s obligation? After all, unless we’re talking the Virgin Mary here, she didn’t get pregnant alone. (And even the Virgin Mary had help of a godly kind.)

I’d have a bit more tolerance for pro-lifers if they’d agreed to these rules:

  1. The biological father is also responsible, financially and legally and otherwise, for raising the baby until adulthood.
  2. If the father isn’t married to the mother in question, and the mother keeps the child, he is legally obligated to pay for child support. For argument’s sake, let’s say he’s obligated to contribute 20% of his pay until the child reaches the age of eighteen.

If men were held legally and morally responsible for all the children they fathered, and this was strictly enforced by society and the state, with deadbeat dads becoming society’s new outcasts, I wonder how long it would take for abortion to be made legal and universally available in America?

Before #MeToo – The Price of Silence

What would America be like if men got pregnant instead of women? It seems a silly question, but I’d argue it isn’t. My guess is that abortion would not only be legal under all conditions but that it would be readily available to all (men). The same for contraception: cheap and readily available. I was raised Catholic; consider if the Catholic clergy, all male of course, got pregnant, had to carry babies to term, and then had to care for them. Somehow I think that church teachings on abortion and contraception would be different.

But men don’t get pregnant. And men have full control over their bodies. It’s far different for women in America (and across most of the globe). Women are not only victims of sexual violence: they are increasingly being told they have no other option than to carry a baby to term, even if they were victims of rape or incest. The legislatures making these decisions (no surprise) are predominantly male, and they love to pose as pro-life.

In her memoir, Meredith Keller reminds us of the high price women have paid in America when laws are made by men for men, where women are often an afterthought, if that, and when so-called religious teachings are elevated above empathy and compassion and understanding. W.J. Astore

Before #MeToo – The Price of Silence

Meredith Keller

Now in retirement, I am anticipating a quiet afternoon in my art studio when I check mail in my rural box. Roosters are crowing. I hear clanking sounds of tractors discing and smell the musty soil being turned. I sort through the junk mail when my eye lands on a hand addressed letter. I tear it open to find the shocking words:

I think you might be my grandmother.

My body goes rigid as the thought of reliving a shattering period of my past sends waves of shock reverberating through my body. All those feelings of shame long buried were about to boil up again. If I answered the letter, all would be revealed.

Would I dare? Did I want to go down that path and relive the scenes of a rape and resulting pregnancy, opening the scars of a long buried episode that began on a college campus in 1962? Would this young writer, my granddaughter, be able to comprehend how the moral arbiters of society held us in their grip?

Sexual harassment, rape and intimidation have shadowed and haunted women through the ages. Where were their stories? Buried, like mine, in shame, layered under decades of angst. In my day single women with unintended pregnancies were forced into hiding. From the end of WWII until the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, unmarried pregnant women and their families faced shame and insufferable choices.

The alternatives were dismal. One solution was to visit abortionists, in many cases unqualified, who, to protect their own identities, blindfolded women during the procedure.  In 1962, sixteen hundred women, forced into illegal terminations, were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City due to botched or incomplete abortions. Society had women, especially poor women, in a vise.

Others had no choice but to carry a child to term. They quietly disappeared, spirited away while the stigma of “illegitimacy” hung over them. Shrouded in secrecy, with their identities erased, they were groomed to hand over their babies for adoption and return to society as though nothing had happened. It was known as the Baby Scoop Era when the dominant view was that unmarried women were unfit mothers and needed to acknowledge their guilt and shame and give up their babies for adoption. From 1945 to 1973 it is estimated that four million parents in the United States had children placed for adoption. Four million sad stories like mine went undocumented.

The Unraveling – The Price of Silence, my memoir, puts a spotlight on what it was like to have to weather the paralyzing trauma of rape and then go through the devastating severance of handing a child over to adoption. No one can imagine the gravity and deep sadness of that moment you give away your own child. It caused a quake deep in my soul. Is this what our legislators wish to return to when they not only write restrictive abortion laws, but also deny women health coverage for contraception under the guise of “freedom of religion”?

Feel what it was like to struggle through those times before Roe as I dredge up shattering memories that haunted me for 52 years. I fiercely fought for the dignity that was swiftly erased one night on a college campus. I had to jump hurdles to re-define myself, bury the past and muster the grit to have a successful career beginning as Food Editor of a leading restaurant magazine at age 23.  

The scars from my early life remained and memories lingered until that letter arrived in my mailbox. What would I respond? How could I adequately explain an era long forgotten? That granddaughter had not lived through those restrictive times of shame and humiliation. I unraveled my story for her and all young women so they can feel what it was like when women’s reproductive rights were emphatically denied. It is a struggle we are facing yet again. And yet, there was one champion in our corner, a little known lawyer at the time, and she had this to say:

The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Keller’s memoir, The Unraveling, is available in paperback, hardback, and electronically from popular outlets such as Amazon and Powell’s. The book’s cover art, reproduced above, is her original work.

This story was first posted at The Contrary Perspective.

Patriotizing the Arts – Patronizing the Audience

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The National Anthem and flags are everywhere in America

Richard Sahn

Editor’s Intro: The first time I went to a movie on a military base, I was surprised when the national anthem began to play, and everyone stood up.  It seemed so incongruous.  My buddy who came with me refused to stand at first, but after catching grief from a fellow movie-goer, he reluctantly stood.  I stood too, of course, but I felt silly doing so.  The whole practice just seemed to cheapen the anthem.

Nowadays, the anthem and similar patriotic songs are everywhere, especially “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA,” with its refrain about being “Proud to be an American.”  Watching NFL football this past weekend, I noticed every announcer on CBS during halftime wore flag lapel wins.  Easy gestures of patriotism are everywhere in my country, even at classical concerts, notes my good friend and fellow contrarian, Richard Sahn.  But are they not patronizing to the audience?  W.J. Astore

I recently attended a classical music concert in the town where I live. The orchestra began by playing the national anthem. Many in the audience sang the words. I felt like I was at a baseball game or a military parade or the moment before the fireworks at a July 4th celebration. I stood up, of course, for my own survival in the rural and conservative community where I live.

But I couldn’t help but engage in some critical thinking. What is the connection between this perfunctory display of patriotic observance and enjoying the music, I kept asking myself.  I couldn’t conjure up a rational relationship. If there was a global anthem–perhaps honoring the potential of great music to bring the people of the world together–singing such an anthem would have been appropriate. Come to think of it, great artistic works and performers have the very potential to do just that, unite humanity.   Yet all national anthems of developed countries when performed in public forums only enhance the capacity to see the social world in terms of us versus them. Depending on the government in power this division can have moral or immoral consequences if we define “immoral” as decision-making that promotes unnecessary death and suffering.

So, why play a national anthem before a classical concert featuring international music, and why stand up for it? I’ve come up with several possible reasons:

  1. One reason people rise for the national anthem is because they don’t want to stand out in the crowd and endure negative reactions. (My reason.)
  2. Another reason seems to be pure habit, which is the result of socializing and conditioning throughout one’s life.
  3. Pride in nation as such, which would apply to people of any specific nationality. This is pure love of country, an easy form of patriotism with no cost to the individual.
  4. The belief, undoubtedly a “true belief” as author Eric Hoffer would argue (“The True Believer”) that one is truly honoring those who sacrificed themselves in a nation’s wars, that one is somehow expressing thanks to the dead and their families. Or, that the nation itself is alive or conscious. Therefore, one is thanking the nation for winning its wars.
  5. Obedience to the norm of standing up for national anthem, thinking that it is an obligation to society, perhaps authority figures in general, to respect the national anthem.
  6. Finally, a cynical explanation for the musical director of the orchestra beginning a concert with the national anthem is pleasing or obeying members of the board of the orchestra who contribute financially, and who insist on the observation of “patriotic” norms.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in honoring or supporting courageous individuals who have fought in wars or sacrificed themselves for what they believed was necessary for freedom and survival.  Not just war heroes but moral heroes, men and women like Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day.

But I oppose national anthems because they feed nationalism which is conducive to unnecessary death and torture. I am also opposed to national anthems because there is no such thing as a country or nation; there are only people, laws, culture (material and non-material).

Countries exist in consciousness. They are abstract ideas, political constructs. Believing they exist as if they were a reality sui generis, as if they were an actual person or even a thing, is reification. The word is not the thing, the map is not the territory.

Instead of rising for jingoistic national anthems, people should instead rise to applaud a moving performance by the musicians and conductor after listening to, say, Mozart’s Jupiter symphony.  Music is real in a way that nations are not.

Musical concerts should provide a haven for celebrating the human condition, not for anthem-singing that divides humanity. My protest that night was a silent one, but internally I raged against the conflation of the state with the arts when the national anthem began to play.

Richard Sahn is a sociology professor and independent thinker.

What Will “Freedom” Mean in a Trump Administration?

Big Brother
Remember the 1st and 4th Amendments?

W.J. Astore

What will freedom mean in a Trump administration?  During his campaign, why did Trump harp on the Second Amendment but none of the others?  How did our country come to define freedom as buying lots of guns and ammo without restrictions, or flying objectionable symbols such as Confederate battle flags?  What kind of “freedom” is the freedom to spend lots of money on guns? What kind of “speech” is flying a symbol that is highly offensive and hateful to many Americans?

The “freedom” to fly a flag associated with slavery, rebellion, oppression, and racism doesn’t seem to me to be much of a “freedom.” The same is true of the “freedom” to spend lots of money on guns and ammo. What is so “free” about that?

The “freedom” of the average Joe has come to be defined as the right to carry guns or the right to fly racist flags. But what about the right to a living wage, the right to privacy, the right to good health care, the right to a decent education, the right to clean water and fresh air, the right to have a real say in the political process?  These rights are being increasingly abridged, yet so many Americans see no infringement to their “freedom” here.

Surely one of the great triumphs of the power elite has been the redefinition of “freedom” such that the freedoms that are allowed, like buying lots of guns, make no impact on the elite’s ability to rule and to exploit.

A couple of sobering facts.  During his campaign, Trump railed against the press, suggesting that he’d work to change libel laws so that he could sue and punish the press for writing critical stories about him.  Also, Trump has suggested some kind of national registry for Muslims, and members of his staff have suggested internment camps for unreliable elements, citing the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a laudable precedent.

What the hell?

As the Trump administration takes shape, apparently with men like Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and retired General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, Americans would do well to read and re-read the Bill of Rights, all of them, not just rights like the Second Amendment.  For what good is it to be able to buy lots of guns if you need to worry about your religion, your right to privacy, your ability to organize and protest, and your right to a press that is untrammeled by the government?

Alarmist?  Consider the following facts about retired General Flynn, according to FP: Foreign Policy:

Earlier this year, Flynn Tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” and just last month offered his support for a prominent Alt-Right writer and activist. In his book Field of Fight released earlier this year, Flynn wrote, “I’m totally convinced that, without a proper sense of urgency, we will be eventually defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed” by Islamic militants, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce noted in a story about the book.

Sitting in your walled bunker, surrounded by guns as well as the stars and bars and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, is not much of a “freedom” if the government is illegally watching you, or getting ready to intern you in a camp because you worship God in the name of Allah instead of Yahweh or Jehovah, or getting ready to deport you because not all of your papers are perfectly in order.

First they came for undocumented immigrants, and I did not speak out, for I was not undocumented.  Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out, for I was not Muslim.  Then they came for the protesters, and I did not speak out, for I was not a protester.  Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Liberty First: What an Old Coin Can Teach Us

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My dad’s half dime

W.J. Astore

When I was a kid, I was a stamp collector.  My dad, in contrast, saved old coins.  He was not a collector; he didn’t file them away in special folders. He just tossed old silver coins into a cigar box.

My favorite coin of his was also the oldest one he had: a “half dime” from 1845.  To me, it’s a remarkably simple and aesthetically pleasing design, featuring a seated figure of “Liberty” on the obverse, with the words “Half Dime” on the reverse.

half dime

Note what’s missing: the words “In God We Trust.”  This motto was not added to coins until the national trauma of the U.S. Civil War reinforced religious revivals that had preceded that war.  It made its first appearance in 1864.  (Interestingly, in the “Pledge of Allegiance,” the words “under God” were added only in 1954 during another crisis, the fear of communism stoked by McCarthyism during the Cold War.)

As a nation it seems we invoke God during crises, calling on Him for support and guidance and blessing.

But I want to return to my dad’s half dime from 1845, because that coin, in its simplicity, enshrines a value that is most fundamental to our country: Liberty.

With respect to religion, liberty to me means the freedom to worship God in one’s own way, to include the freedom not to worship God, even the freedom to express disbelief in God.

Such liberty was extremely rare in the 18th century when our nation was founded.  Back then, being labeled an “atheist” was roughly equivalent to being labeled a “terrorist” today.  But our nation’s founders were of diverse religious persuasions, to include Catholics and Quakers as well as myriad branches of “dissenting” Protestantism.  A few were deists (Thomas Jefferson most famously) who rejected the Trinitarian Christianity of most of their peers, and a small number (Thomas Paine, perhaps) were skeptics to the point of atheism.

What united them was a belief in liberty.  In religion, this was expressed as the freedom to worship in any way you chose, or not to worship at all.  Thus there was no religious “test” for office, no requirement to be a Christian or to express a belief that “In God We Trust.”

That profound belief in personal freedom — in liberty first — is captured on my dad’s old coin.  It’s also captured in the Pledge of Allegiance before 1954: “one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

In today’s political climate, with all of our public prayers and calls to God to bless America, with talk of Muslims not being allowed to hold office because their god is somehow the wrong god, we need to recall that America was founded on Liberty first.

Or as my mom put it in her inimitable way, “You worry about your soul and I’ll worry about mine.”  Jefferson and Paine would have liked my mom.