I Don’t Trust in God. Do You? Why Is This Slogan On My Money?

Introduction

Suppose Islamists in time became the dominant religion in this country, and suppose once they had enough political power to do so, they organized to have their religious slogan on the currency. Imagine Allahu Akbar (if not their Prophet’s mug) on coins of the realm and notes of all denominations? How would that be any different from “In God We Trust?” Wouldn’t that be just as but not more annoying? How do you think the Christian minority would like them apples?  

My guess is they would like it even less than freethinkers and secularists by whatever name who believe this country is and always has been and should remain a secular Republic, not a Christian nation, like having “In God We Trust” on the currency. It’s the same with “Under God” in the now Christian and highly divisive Pledge of Allegiance. Both are outrageous and decidedly undemocratic. Both are very much inconsistent with the wall of separation that should stand between church and state. The courts would keep separate the two realms IF the Constitution of the United States were protected and defended by those who, with one hand on their holy bibles, swear to uphold it when they took their official oaths.  

The Facts

Wikipedia advises that “In God we trust ” became the official national motto in 1956, replacing E pluribus unum. The latter was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was adopted in 1782. However, “In God we trust” appeared on most U.S. coins beginning in 1864 thanks to an unchallenged directive from Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, a Christian fundamentalist of that era. 

A year after the 1956 motto change, the four words were added to paper currency. Wikipedia notes that “some secularists object to its use.” Wikipedia can sometimes dazzle with understatements. 

The U.S. Mint offers a similar history at its website. The Mint version:  

           From Treasury Department records it appears that the first suggestion 

           that God be recognized on U.S. coinage can be traced to a letter 

           addressed to the Secretary of Treasury from a minister in 1861. 

           An Act of Congress, approved on April 11, 1864, authorized the 

           coinage of two-cent coins upon which the motto first appeared. The 

           motto was omitted from the new gold coins issued in 1907, causing 

           a storm of public criticism. As a result, legislation passed in May 

          1908 made In God We Trust’ mandatory on all coins on which it had 

          previously appeared. Legislation approved July 11, 1955, made the 

          appearance of ‘In God We Trust’ mandatory on all coins and paper 

          currency of the United States. By Act of July 30, 1956, ‘In God 

          We Trust’ became the national motto of the United States. Several 

          years ago, the appearance of “In God We Trust” on our money was 

          challenged in the federal courts. The challenge was rejected by 

          the lower federal courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States 

          declined to review the case.

Resistance at the Secular Grass Roots  

The Freedom From Religion Foundation or FFRF, in concert with 19 other plaintiffs, is again suing the U.S. Treasury in the latest effort by stalwarts of church/state separation to terminate the stamping of the “In God We Trust” slogan on U.S. currency. Honorary FFRF board member Mike Newdow is acting as legal counsel in the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Feb. 1.

The complaint alleges that the motto is a state-sponsored establishment of religion that violates the Establishment Clause. The argument describes the history of the phrase, demonstrating that the motto has always represented a form of religious proselytizing, that it is discriminatory and serves a purely religious purpose. One consequence, stated in the lawsuit, is that non-Christian Americans “are forced to proselytize — by an Act of Congress — for a deity they don’t believe in whenever they handle money.” 

Robert Newdow again leads the way as plaintiff’s attorney making the case against the constitutionality of this religious message. What an unsung American hero.

Consider a few comments uttered by one of the sponsors of the Congressional action that led to this slogan being plastered on our currency: “… the principles laid down by God and the teachings of our way of life should be kept alive in the hearts and minds of our friends enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.” Rep. Herman P. Eberharter (PA).

Contrast that perspective with this one by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker: “Our government is prohibited from endorsing one religion over another but also prohibited from endorsing religion over non-religion. The placement of a monotheistic ideal on our nation’s currency violates this stricture and is therefore unconstitutional.” 

In an earlier challenge to the motto, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor remarked that the message to all who are non-adherents of religion is “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” 

The new complaint also observes that a “provision discriminating in a similar manner against Jews, Catholics, women, blacks, Latinos, Asians or any other minority group would…never be tolerated.”

Summing Up 

Believe it or not, the courts have held, according to Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, that the motto is constitutional because it is not Christian or even religious – it’s “ceremonial.” That’s Orwellian. 

Perhaps we should be grateful that the Christian majority does not require us to sing hymns, attend church or bow in some obvious fashion to the God we’re supposed to trust and be under. Christians have done worse than impose mottos and silly pledges. Recall the words of G.W. Foote: “Who burnt heretics? Who roasted or drowned millions of ‘witches’? Who built dungeons and filled them? Who brought forth cries of agony from honest men and women that rang to the tingling stars? Who burnt Bruno? Who spat filth over the graves of Paine and Voltaire? The answer is one word–CHRISTIANS.” (G.W. Foote. “Are Atheists Wicked?,” chapter from Flowers of Freethought, 1894.) 

I believe that someday this absurd motto will be removed from the currency. Probably not in our time, but someday. 

I can hardly wait.

One thought on “I Don’t Trust in God. Do You? Why Is This Slogan On My Money?

  1. Don, this is perhaps your best writing for the Palace like, EVAR. I nearly jumped off my barstool in sheer joy while reading it. Fortunately, I managed to show some restraint. Not that I would have been embarrassed for making a public spectacle of myself (that ship has LONG sailed), but I might have spilled fabulous Chenin Blanc!

    Bravo. And thank you.

    On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 4:48 PM, WordPress.com

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