Bruce Alger (1918–2015) was, from 1955 to 1965, a US representative from Texas, the first Republican congressman from Texas since Reconstruction.
February 4, 1963
Hon. Bruce Alger
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Dear Mr. Alger:
Thank you for your letter and for the material which you sent me: the study on God in Government, the copies of your Washington Report and the copies of the Congressional Record containing your remarks.
I agree with a large part of your political position and with many of the bills you introduced, as listed in your Washington Report of January 12, 1963. I know and appreciate your voting record.
But I am deeply puzzled by your study on God in Government. I cannot understand the purpose you had in mind. I assume that the study is not intended to persuade dissenters, since it is a historical survey, not a theoretical dissertation or argumentation; it merely quotes the views of a number of public figures.
If I understood it correctly, your brief remarks in that study indicate that you seek to prove that the Constitution and the United States government do not deny a belief in God. Of course they do not. It would be as improper for the government to deny a belief in God as to uphold it. The First Amendment means that the government has no right to enter the field of religious beliefs, i.e., to exercise legal force or compulsion over the individual citizen’s beliefs, neither on the side of theism nor of atheism.
I regret that on page 2 of your study you chose to be unfair to me. You wrote: “Individual’s importance and freedom, which she stresses, results from his accountability to God, his reason for being, which she overlooks.” I do not overlook it—I deny and oppose that view, and I have made this explicitly clear in all my books, particularly in Atlas Shrugged.
To “overlook” important issues means to evade them. I doubt
that you would care to accuse me of evasion in view of my public record—and in view of your own estimate of my work, as expressed in your letters and in our telephone conversation.
But the most bewildering statement in your study is on page 14, namely: “ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM, THEREFORE, IS ILLEGAL.” Frankly, I do not know whether you intended that statement to be taken seriously. If you did, how could you send it to me? Surely, you realize that I am the first person you would have to send to jail, and my books would be among the first you would have to suppress, under such a doctrine. And surely you could not have intended me to take it as a hint or a threat.
If you did not intend that statement to be taken literally, then don’t you think that it is an enormously dangerous thing to play with? If the leftists were to quote you on this, it would destroy your stand and your distinguished record as a defender of freedom and capitalism. You would have no leg (or toenail) to stand on, in defending economic freedom and inalienable rights or in denouncing the dictatorial encroachments of government—if you denied intellectual freedom and advocated the government’s “right” to prescribe an individual’s convictions by law, that is, by force. How would you be able to speak of rights or freedom thereafter? And how would you implement such a law? You would have no way to do it except by establishing censorship and a medieval Inquisition.
As to my views on the validation of individual rights, you will find them in Atlas Shrugged, pp. 1061–1062 (Random House edition).
You will find my views on the relationship of capitalism and religion in my lecture on “Conservatism: An Obituary,” pp. 10–13.
You will find my views on the only possible form of co-operation between religious and non-religious advocates of capitalism in the March 1962 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, in an answer written by Barbara Branden for the Intellectual Ammunition Department.
In accordance with the principles of America and of capitalism, I recognize your right to hold any beliefs you choose—and, on the same grounds, you have to recognize my right to hold any convictions I choose. I am an intransigent atheist, though not a militant one. This means that I am not fighting against religion—I am fighting for reason. When faith and reason clash, it is up to the religious people to decide how they choose to reconcile the conflict. As far as I am concerned, I have no terms of communication and no means to deal with people, except through reason.
If you find that your beliefs do not clash with reason and
that your political views are rational—then that is the area in which we can communicate. I sincerely hope that we can.
I shall be very interested to hear your answer. And I would appreciate it if you would clarify for me the exact meaning and intent of your statement about the “illegality” of atheism.
Congressman Alger answered that he meant that atheism and agnosticism were “contrary to the spirit of the law, if not the letter.”