When the colonies in America declared their independence from England, they relied on moral reasoning. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues declared that all people were created equal and had rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those leaders believed that governments were created by people to protect those rights.

Moral reasoning, founded on self-evident truths, ripped the veil off the opposing argument that kings had a God-given right to govern. The founding fathers argued God gave rights to people, not to kings or governments. This bold assertion of human equality was 283 years after a papal decree, in 1493, known as the doctrine of discovery. The pope’s decree enabled European kings to claim land and colonize people in the Americas. The king’s army would plant the national flag and implant the king’s religion.

Many American churches now repudiate that doctrine of discovery and believe that all people are children of God. These churches believe Christian Americans do not have superior rights to people of other countries or other belief systems.

This belief in equality requires Americans to share the planet with all others who live on it. “America first” really means “us before you.” Earth is a globe with 233 countries and 7.7 billion people, that spins as it obits the sun. There is no geographical or even economic first place. It is foolish to believe America’s interest is served by unbridled selfishness, economic dominance, military power or its delusion that Americans are exceptional.

The president, during a recent speech, awkwardly hugged a flag. He also has been signing Bibles. Ironically, the Christian Bible scolds those who would make a public showing of their faith. The president and those who seek his signature are condemned by the very book he is signing. The president mocks Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness and compassion and violates the doctrine of the separation of church and state. A president signing a Bible is sacrilegious and unpatriotic.

The president and other political leaders covertly attack religious teachings. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, these leaders appeal to delusional ethnocentrism. Faced with people seeking freedom in America, the president wants to build a wall to keep them out. The president and the United States government took children away from parents to dissuade them from seeking sanctuary in America. Appealing to nationalism by dehumanizing others is not treating them as equal.

Americans fought for human equality more than once. Led by President Abraham Lincoln, Americans declared that African people, owned as property of United States citizens, were entitled to freedom and were citizens of the United States.

The struggle for equality didn’t end with Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, and it didn’t end with the Civil War. It didn’t end when American forces liberated Jews from concentration camps. It didn’t end when the Supreme Court declared separate was not equal or with the election of Barack Obama. The struggle hasn’t ended, it has grown into a moral crisis that once again divides this nation.

How people are treated at the Mexican border will define the United States. I hope Americans will once again wrap our powerful arms around suffering people and help them to their feet. Americans believe compassion is not weakness and have demonstrated the moral character to see people in peril and help them.

As Americans, we say we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. That is what our flag means and what it means to be an American. May it be so.

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Bill Patrie has been recognized for his work as a cooperative developer by the National Farmers Union, the Association of Cooperative Educators and the National Cooperative Business Association.