I recently read that an atheist group in the USA is again challenging the U.S. motto “In God We Trust” and its presence on U.S. currency, maintaining that it is contrary to the 1st amendment of the Constitution which prohibits the establishment of religion. The motto has been legally challenged at least a couple of times previously, but the challenges have been unsuccessful.
I would think that governmental promotion and establishment of what most certainly amounts to a ‘confession of faith’ in a monotheistic deity would be so obviously contrary to the First Amendment prohibition as to make it ‘unbelievable’ that the government would attempt it and the federal judicial system would allow it. However that is precisely the situation.
The reason that the Court of Appeals gave for allowing the motto was: “Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise”. [See the section labeled “Challenges to the ‘In God We Trust’ Motto”] That statement is blatantly ridiculous, and shows that the Court majority had a preconceived bias which they were determined to uphold no matter how absurdly nonsensical their argument.
How is it even conceivably possible that “God”, and a profession of trust in “God”, is non-religious? How can such a statement of faith in God be considered in any way ‘secular’, or ‘patriotic’, under a Constitution that requires that religion and government be entirely separate? How can a religious profession be considered a statement of ‘patriotism’ to a secular government/nation?
Trust in “God”, and profession of such trust, must be entirely individual and voluntary. If I wish to state that I trust in God, I may do so. I may also join with a group of likeminded individuals in giving a united affirmation that “in God we trust”. However it is no business of government to promote or require such an affirmation.
The motto is not only religious in its very nature, but the motivation for promoting the motto has been religious from its inception. The history of “In God We Trust” can be found in an article by the U.S. Department of the Treasury; a Wikipedia article; and an article from the Nashville, Tennessee chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In those articles (and undoubtedly others like them) you will find that the motto was initially promoted in the early 1860s by Christians who felt that it was shameful that the ‘Founding Fathers’ had failed or refused to publicly and officially acknowledge God in the Constitution or elsewhere. They believed that acknowledgement and praise was owed to God, and the War between the States being fought at that time was a punishment from God for the ‘heathenism’ previously displayed by the USA.
The motto was first suggested in a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury by a Christian minister in 1861. The Secretary agreed with the sentiments expressed by the minister, and charged the Director of the Mint to come up with a design for coins which would express the supposed national dependence on “the almighty God”. The Director of the Mint was in fact a member of the National Reform Association, which sought to have the preamble to the U.S. Constitution changed to reflect the idea that the USA owed its existence to the “almighty God”, and that Jesus Christ is “the ruler among nations, and [whose] revealed will [is] the supreme law of the land”. The Association of course failed in its attempt to have the preamble altered; but the Director of the Mint (a member of the Association) was delighted to have the opportunity given to him to come up with a theistic motto for U.S. coins.
About 90 years later (1954), during another outbreak of religious fervor in reaction to the “godless communism” of the Soviet Union and China, the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance – so that it became “one nation, under God, indivisible…” instead of “one nation, indivisible…”. Then in 1955, a bill was introduced in Congress to add the motto “In God We Trust” to paper currency in addition to the coins, with the result that in 1957 the first paper bills bearing that motto were produced.
All of this was clearly a matter of religious fervor; there was nothing ‘secular’ about it. It was only considered ‘patriotic’ because of the ignorant belief that the USA is supposed to be a “Christian nation”, founded on “Christian (or ‘Judeo-Christian’) principles”. To be truly ‘patriotic’, it was thought that one had to be “Christian” or at least “religious”. Religion and patriotism to the U.S. government and nation were conflated, contrary to the Constitution which insisted that they be kept separate.
Around 6o years after the addition of “under God” to the Pledge, and the placing of “In God We Trust” on paper money, it is still obvious that the affirmation of trust, and “under God”, remains religious in nature and religiously motivated. Nothing has changed simply because it has become “accepted” and repeated so many times. Certainly atheists still tend to consider it an unacceptable promotion of a religious ‘confession of faith’; but those who so strongly promote the Pledge and the motto also affirm its religious nature. They aren’t interested in promoting a secular “patriotism”, but a “humble” acknowledgment of, and “praise” to, almighty God. It is still believed by the promoters that such acknowledgment and praise is “owed” to God, and that “His” judgment will fall heavily on the nation if it reneges on the affirmation.
However, the extreme irony of the situation is that those who so strongly insist on the Pledge and the motto will also strongly insist that those statements are in fact falsehoods! They tell us constantly that the USA has ‘departed’ from God (despite the Pledge and the motto), and that the ‘wrath’ and ‘judgment’ of God abide on the nation. When they insist that we ‘acknowledge’ God verbally, they are insisting that the people of the USA practice hypocrisy!
Every time there is a major flood, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, our Christian promoters of hypocrisy are quick to announce that they know the reason why “God” has “judged” the nation in that way. Perhaps it’s the abounding ‘pornography’, the violence and sexual explicitness of TV programs and movies, or the acceptance of homosexuality and especially homosexual marriages. Whatever the particular reason(s), it is obvious to these Christians that the nation has ‘departed far from God’ and “He” is extremely angry with us.
Having “In God We Trust” as the official national motto, printed on our coins and paper bills, and constantly reciting “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, doesn’t seem to have helped us much “before God”, does it? Might it not be that “almighty God” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” are even angry at us for hypocritically affirming obvious falsehoods?? ( 😆 ) Why are our Christian zealots and theocrats so insistent on having us verbally profess what they themselves affirm is in fact a lie? Would it not be better, even in their view, to go ahead and remove the monotheistic affirmations rather than promote a lie?
However the promoters deal with the charge of hypocrisy, it remains evident that the affirmations are entirely religious and proceed from a religious motivation. Consequently, for the U.S. government to promote and “establish” those phrases is to explicitly defy the Constitution by “establishing religion”. Atheists and agnostics, as well as non-theistic ‘religions’ (such as Buddhism) and polytheistic religions (Hinduism, Wicca, etc.) are quite correct in opposing the “In God We Trust” motto and the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance; and thinking Christians ought to also stand in opposition to those phrases being imposed nationally. They should echo the statements of a couple of Baptist ministers at the time of the formation of the US Constitution:
Isaac Backus said – “Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state not because they are beneath the interests of the state, but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state.”
And John Leland said – “Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing…”
They were correct; modern theocrats are wrong.