I went in, approached the window, and signed in for my appointment. The immigration officer cordially greeted me and inspected my documents, then proceeded to hand me my newly issued Certificate of Naturalization. “WOW!” My knees felt weak. After almost 20 years, I was about to be granted the right to call home the only place I call home since I became an adult, The United States of America. However, since this is not about immigration processes in this country, I will skip the details.
“Finally!” I thought.
So I anxiously inspected all of the details and confirmed to the officer that everything was in order. She then gave me a white envelope, a little American flag, and instructed me to go into the ceremony room at the end of the corridor.
As I walked, I opened the envelope, examined the papers inside and, to my surprise, the first thing I grabbed had the word “God” stamped on it. I got confused. Read it again. And there it was, “so help me God”.
I felt a sense of outrage and disbelief. I couldn’t possibly imagine that I was being directed to ask God to help me keep a promise I was making to my new country. The promise I was about to make was far too important for me to rely on a mythical being to help me keep it. I had decided to make that promise because I had made a decision to be a part of this country, participate in its democratic process, and stand for freedom and justice for all; a decision made by me, rationally. I am responsible for my own actions and their consequences, not God! But I don’t want to sound like I am ranting. After all, this was only the beginning.
Next, I decided to turn the paper to see what was written on the other side. Well, there it was again, “one Nation, under God”.
WHAT? What God?
I looked around and saw the new faces of America. We were a total of 50 or so people, from every possible ethnic background, representing more 38 countries around the globe. Believers and non-believers of all sorts of different flavors stood together, united by the desire to be a part of this great nation because of the principles for which it stands, and not because of any god or gods!
I started to think that I was being a bit critical though. I was trying to enjoy that very special moment in my life and not get all frustrated with the God business. So I thought, “Well, this country was colonized by people who were seeking freedom of religion, so it’s part of its history.”
Then the ceremony was about to start and another Immigration Officer started to address us with regards to what was about to take place. He explained the technicalities, congratulated us, and the ceremony began.
We watched a “welcome” video and a speech by Madam Albright. I must confess that I was way too excited at this point to really scrutinize every word, so if God popped up anywhere, I didn’t see him, but I knew he was still lurking around the corner.
Next was the Oath of Allegiance.
Concerned, I stood up and wondered if they would think I wasn’t patriotic enough if I didn’t say the bits about God. When everybody started, I started; when everybody said “so help me God”, I choked up. I just couldn’t say it. I thought, “I will keep my promise because I said so; not because a figment of someone else’s imagination helped me with the task. God is just a word used by primitive men to justify lack of knowledge and evidence. America embraced me because I am worthy of its principals, not because I believe in supernatural entities.” And that was not the last of it.
Next we were officially welcomed by a video of President Obama addressing the new children of this nation as “fellow Americans”. His speech was inspired and I felt emotional; even cried. Then, as he prepared to say goodbye, he uttered “May God bless you all and may God continue to bless America.”
My heart dropped! So many things were wrong about that statement.
For instance, let’s assume for a moment that God indeed exists, then shouldn’t he also bless all other nations? Have we created yet another God? One solely created for the American People? Why are we bringing God into matters of citizenship?
Anyway, not quite done with harassing me just yet, God showed up again.
The video of “I’m proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood started playing, and – Lo and behold! –there he was, “God bless the USA.”
To finish the ceremony, we were all asked to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and again, I choked, “under God.”
I felt like I was drowning in religiosity. It felt like I was being born again as an American and baptized by the President. Nonetheless, “proud to be an American!” No question about that!
And that is how the ceremony concluded. After negotiating with myself on whether or not I should write this article, I realized that, as an American, I made promise to stand up for freedom and justice for all. I was taught that “if you see something, you say something.” So here I am, telling you what I saw.
As someone who has only recently decided to come out of the atheist closet and who has just become an American citizen amidst so many references to God, I ask; what about separation between church and state? Where do we go from here?
Soleil Silva a secular activist and you can follow her on Twitter @secularsoleil