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Independence Day—A Secular or Religious Holiday?

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The Fourth of July is a holiday all Americans can appreciate, regardless of religious loyalty. It is a day we remember our independence from the grips of the monarch-led British Empire. Although the holiday was not made official by Congress until the 1870s, it was a day that defined everything our country has come to represent: freedom, pride, and progress. The Revolutionary War produced our country’s founding documents that remain the basis for our political system—and gave us the rights we all enjoy today. Independence Day has been one of my favorite holidays since I can remember. As a kid, I loved sitting in the park, covered in a melting popsicle, anxiously awaiting the beautifully frightening explosions that would illuminate the summer sky for an all-too-brief fifteen minutes. It was a holiday I looked forward to every year, and still do. Back then I never questioned the hundreds of “God Bless America” signs or those tacky t-shirts people wear—you know, the ones with the huge bald eagle and American flags on them that say “God Bless America” or “One Nation Under God.” I thought those things just always went along with Independence Day; I thought American pride also meant religious pride. Now I see that the idea of our nation being blessed by anything is far from humble—and why claims like “under God” and “God Bless America” can be harmful and divisive. I was always bothered by the misguided idea of America being that “shining city upon the hill” (originally stated by John Winthrop as he referenced Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”). It was an excuse used to justify some of the more unsavory acts committed by our wonderful nation. America is far from perfect—with or without God’s blessing. Instead, celebrating Independence Day should be spent remembering our history that helped shape where we are today. We should recognize every man and woman that took part in our foundations and fully appreciate the freedoms that have been granted to us, not by God, but by the people. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be there at the founding of our nation, putting together this group of men whom all held differences of opinion on politics, law, the meaning of life, and visions of the world? But it was the common desire of liberty that brought them together—not faith or greed. This is worth celebrating. Many will say that our country was founded on Christian values and insist that Independence Day is religious. Religious as some of our founding fathers may have been, our country was never intended to represent one belief. Freedom means the right to believe, or not believe, whatever you want—and that ideal should inspire us to progress toward inclusiveness. This Independence Day, remember your history and relate to your neighbors as Americans and as human beings. And don’t worry about the ones wearing the crazy patriotic God shirts.