In The Advocate’s two Thanksgiving appeals, for gratitude, justice and tolerance among citizens (Our Views, Nov. 22), the editors quote President Abraham Lincoln and President Lyndon Johnson, both of whom invoked God’s influence.

But God’s influence divides people. Even the best of friends debate God’s influence, often never discovering that each person defines “God” differently. People must look beyond God’s influence and focus on shared goals, such as justice. To achieve justice, people assume responsibility to each other.

The injustice of leaders promoting God’s influence is evident throughout American history. The First Virginia Charter, in 1606, commissioned colonists to “propagating of Christian religion to such people as yet live in ... ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.”Colonial Christian barbarity was evident not only against the natives but among the colonists. For example, in the 1692 Salem “witch” executions.

By 1774, the Confederation of States urged personal religious freedom. In the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, the United States implied, in essence, that the deistic “Nature’s God” would defeat England’s Christian God.

God’s influence was weakened by the Civil War. In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln lamented, “Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” America divided under God’s influence, and 750,000 Americans became casualties with untold misery in their families. Over a century and a half later, President George W. Bush used God’s influence to lead America to invade Iraq.

Today, Americans find themselves brooking the alienation of children and grandchildren, still urged by the president to follow God’s influence. But presidents report to the people. The evidence is ripe for Americans to conclude that the American republic’s promises to the world hinge on Americans deciding to understand and fulfill the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Fulfilling common ethical goals should be every citizen’s commitment to future generations.

To paraphrase the preamble: The citizens who want integrity, justice, peacefulness, defense, prosperity, liberty and continuity govern this nation. I chose “integrity” to replace the concept of unity, which in 1787 referred to the then Confederation of States. Practicing the preamble with integrity, my neighbor’s religion is as free to him/her and appreciable to me as mine. Each of the seven goals needs personal consideration and public debate in personal integrity.

The influence of God is predicated on the assertion that humans will not choose ethical behavior. However, most people want to behave so that they can live in freedom. Religions offer believers comfort in an uncertain world, but justice offers everyone freedom to live without civic harm.

If Americans will embrace justice, perhaps they’ll lead the human community to freedom.

Phil Beaver

retired chemical engineer

Baton Rouge