June 30th, 2011
06:41 PM ET
By Katie Glaeser, CNN
(CNN)–It's a battle of belief - and the right not to believe - in a country founded on freedom.
"I'm a patriotic American. I served my country. I get out there and celebrate the Fourth, too," Blair Scott, who calls himself a proud atheist, proclaimed.
"This America belongs to everyone."
Blair, the communications director for the New Jersey-based American Atheists, said atheists in the United States often feel alienated and face accusations of being anti-American because of their lack of belief in God.
To combat those notions, his group is using Independence Day to say atheists love their country, too.
But the way they're spreading their message might have Americans looking to the sky this Fourth of July and finding something besides fireworks to stir emotion.
Planes with banners that read "God-LESS America" or "Atheism is Patriotic" will be flying over 27 states on Monday. While people might be leery to see the messages overhead, the $23,000 campaign has had a struggle with those who are supposed to bring it to life.
Justin Jaye of Fly Signs Aerial Advertising, who is orchestrating the flights for American Atheists, said out of the 85 people in the country who fly these sign-pulling planes only about 17 have agreed to fly the messages.
"I've been in this business for 20 years and I've never run into so much resistance on people flying," Jaye said. "I've had pilots who are actual atheists who said, 'Justin, I am an atheist and I won't fly it because I can't wear a bulletproof vest.'"
Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, says the reaction to the organization's campaign before it takes off shows how much work the group still needs to do. "This is a clear reminder of why we need to keep fighting because the bigotry against us is so thick that a lot of the pilots are afraid to fly our banners," he said.
Jaye said while some feared for their lives, others feared for their marriages. He had one pilot say his wife would divorce him if he made the flight.
Red Calvert, a pilot and president of Pro-Air Enterprises in Indianapolis, said his reasons to decline the flight were based on his personal beliefs.
"I respect our country and I respect our churches and we've got enough problems in our country without stirring up some more," he said. "If those people want to do something they believe in, fine, just don't include me."
The American Atheists hope to draw attention and spur public discussion through their campaign on Monday.
"It's going to remind people that atheism is at that ballgame and at that beach and at that parade. We are patriotic people," Silverman said.
From around the web
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.