God Rest Ye Southern Gentlemen

Do you like making fun of Alabama? Sure, we all do. That’s why we have Alabama. That’s why they kept it intact when they were making America. You know how there’s one person in every group whom the others mock when he’s not around? That’s Alabama. His 49 friends secretly think he’s a moron. (OK, not secretly.)

Our latest example of Alabama’s down-home way of embarrassing itself is in State Rep. Steve Hurst’s filing of a bill that would require all Alabama license plates to bear the phrase “God Bless America.” This would replace Alabama’s current slogan, which is “The South wil Rize Agin!”**

No, I kid. “God Bless America” would actually appear on the license plate IN ADDITION to the things already on there, which include the words “Stars Fell on Alabama” and the phrase “Heart of Dixie,” which is actually required by STATE LAW to appear on all Alabama license plates — as in, if someone tried to have a license plate that didn’t say “Heart of Dixie,” they would be breaking the law. Somewhere in there, I guess there’s also a place for the license plate number.

Rep. Hurst wants to add “God Bless America” to all of this, and on its face, it’s not a completely absurd idea. Where he’s going to lose a lot of people is in the way he talks about it, as quoted in an Associated Press article of Nov. 26.

Having seen a “God Bless America” decal on a specialty prisoner of war license plate, Hurst thought it would be good to put the same thing on all of Alabama’s plates. “That will let all the people in America know that we are a Bible Belt state,” he said.

Now, first of all … I’m pretty sure all the people in America already know that. I don’t think there’s any question about where Alabama stands vis-a-vis the Bible, i.e., they like it.

Second, does Alabama really want to be so closely associated with a book when 25 percent of Alabama’s adults are illiterate? (They’re a Bible Belt state, you see, just not in the sense of actually being able to read it.)

Hurst probably should have gone with “In God We Trust” for his proposal. That phrase already appears on U.S. currency and in other official government places, so he’d be able to make a fairly strong case for putting it on license plates, too. But “God Bless America” is just the name of a song by Irving Berlin (Irving Berlin the JEW — has Alabama considered THAT?). It has the word “God” in it, which means it’s sorta religious, which means it’s going to be problematic getting it on the license plates.

Hurst told the Associated Press, “Here we are in the times of 9/11, times of war and terrorists. It’s a time for the nation to pull together and I think this is something that reflects how the majority of Alabamians feel.”

Again, two points.

1. Did Hurst just wake up from a four-year coma? “The times of 9/11”? “Time for the nation to pull together”? That is so September 2001.

2. Just because something “reflects how the majority of Alabamians feel” doesn’t mean it ought to be put on government-issued paraphernalia. Until recently, most Alabamians didn’t feel black people should be allowed to drink from the same drinking fountains as white people, but you didn’t hear anyone suggesting they put THAT on the license plates.

More to the point, while we live in a democracy, that doesn’t mean just ANYTHING the majority agrees on can be made official. Eighty percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, but that doesn’t mean a law could be passed making Christianity the official religion of the United States. Why not? Because of the other 20 percent, who don’t constitute a majority but who are still entitled to equal status under the law.

Something like 90 percent of Alabamians are Christians. (By comparison, only around 80 percent of Israelis are Jewish.) The other 10 percent are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian, agnostic, atheist or simply “no religion.” I’m guessing it’s more of the latter; somehow I can’t picture a lot of Hindus or atheists living in Alabama. (Actually, I CAN picture it, and it’s really funny.)

I guess the license plate thing just seems unnecessary, and not because a quarter of Alabama’s residents wouldn’t be able to read it anyway. If the vast majority of Alabamians believe in God, and if most of those presumably want God to bless America … well, then why put it on a license plate? Hurst says it’s to unify everyone, but it sounds like most of his constituents already ARE unified. Are they trying to convert the people who don’t believe in God over to their side? Are they trying to frighten the terrorists into thinking they can’t win against a nation that God is blessing? He says it’s to let everyone know what Alabama thinks, but I can assure you, the rest of the country doesn’t care what Alabama thinks. We just like watchin’ ’em.

** Alternate jokes for Alabama’s current slogan:

“Alabama: Who Farted?”
A picture of a pig sitting in a rocking chair
“You Can Call Me Al”
“Death Before Literacy”
A drawing of two dogs doin’ it
“Alabama: We Don’t Need Your Kind ‘Round Here”

This isn't really an "important" column dealing with crucial issues or anything like that -- it's mostly an excuse to make fun of Alabama -- but since I cited a few statistics, I might as well tell you where they came from. Sources are fun!

The Associated Press story about the proposal.

Religious affiliation among Americans (also found here).

Israel is around 80 percent Jewish. (This article, which is an excellent essay on American Christianity, puts the figure at 77 percent.)

Alabama being 90 percent Christian is cited numerous places. A USA Today poll breaks it down here.

How illiterate is Alabama? It depends on what you mean by "illiterate." The 25 percent figure refers to adults at Level I of literacy (the lowest one), which means they operate on below a fifth-grade ability. One source for this information is here.