In God We Trust

By Rev. Chris Andersen

Throughout the course of my wanderings, the subject of religion and government has occasionally reared its head in discussions with friends, family, classmates, etc. While talking about the merits and negatives of including “In God We Trust” on our currency, I noticed a common statement: “It’s just four words. What does it matter?” The same is said concerning the phrase “One Nation Under God” in our pledge. On the surface, I may agree. My worry is that it will not end at just four words. So where will it end?

Hmmm, time for a brief history lesson:

A Gospel Minister, Rev. M. R. Watkinson, sent a letter in November 1861 to the Secretary of the Treasury. This was a time when religious fervor was en vogue during the Civil War. In the letter, Rev. Watkinson pleaded his case (from one Christian to another) that U.S. currency should recognize all mighty god in some form.

An excerpt from his letter:

“… no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.”
Within seven days of the original letter, the Secretary of the Treasury set about the process of devising a motto to include on the nation’s coins. In God We Trust first appeared on U.S. coins three years later in 1864. The motto’s appearance on our coins came and went… and came and went… and well, you get the point. That changed during the McCarthy period when in 1956 the President approved a law passed by Congress which made IN GOD WE TRUST our national motto. Beginning the following year, our new national motto would be printed on U.S. currency… coin AND paper.

The passing of this law came on the heels of another landmark event. Congress added the words “under god” to the pledge of allegiance two years earlier in 1954. One of the arguments of the day was that reasonable people should not object to the addition of just two words (sounds remarkably similar to what the reverend had said nearly 100 years earlier).

A decade later, government and religion were back on the front pages. The non-theist population started asserting its voice. An Atheist mother was enraged that her tax money was being used to buy bibles for public schools. Worse than that was the mandate that her son would take part in bible readings and prayer while attending school. When her son opted out, he was beaten by his classmates while the school officials turned a blind eye. The mother brought suit against the board of education. In a nearly unanimous decision (8-1), the Supreme Court agreed that mandatory bible readings and school prayer were unconstitutional.
In the years since, many have argued that the establishment clause of the constitution either does not exist or does not apply because of past precedent. What precedent you may ask? You guessed it… Government endorsement of religion on U.S. currency, Government endorsement of religion through our national motto, Government endorsement of religion in our official pledge of allegiance.
People who want religion integrated more into our government / education / society often claim that a few liberal judges have hijacked the legal system and are legislating from the bench. This argument just doesn’t hold water. Judges have pointed to the establishment clause consistently over many decades. These are not isolated cases involving a few radical judges. The dual protections of the first amendment have been cited by dozens of courts and judges over a sustained period of time. Both liberal judges as well as ultra-conservative judges have pointed to the constitutional protections in their findings.

By keeping phrases such as “in god we trust” and “under god” in our official government psyche, we keep the door open for fundamentalists to claim precedent. The fight is ongoing to bring organized prayer and bible readings back into public schools. If the religious wing manages to get that through somehow, do you think they will be satisfied? They weren’t satisfied with having coins minted with “in god we trust”. They weren’t satisfied with having a religious national motto. They were not satisfied with making every citizen in the country acknowledge a god in order to pledge their allegiance to this nation and its flag.

If they gain momentum, what will be next? Will they once again start banning any books that are not in agreement with the bible? Strike classes from school curriculum which do not conform to biblical stories? This is not much of a stretch, but what will be next? Will we start enforcing more laws from the bible? Start snuffing out any atheistic movements as well as Wiccans and Satanists? After that we may move on to tell Muslims that they have their own countries they can live in. After all, this is a nation founded on CHRISTIAN principles. If we do not stay vigilant in the protection of the separation principles of the first amendment, we could end up like the people of England before the settlement of America; being forced to adhere to a narrow religious interpretation. This may not include Mormons. It may not include Jews. It may not include Protestants if the government happens to follow catholic principles instead. It is in everyone’s — religious or not — best interest to maintain a strict separation of church and state. By allowing religion into the government business, we allow government into religious business. I don’t think anyone really wants that.

7 thoughts on “In God We Trust”

  1. You have said it so well!! I hate what the Religious Right, is trying to do to this Country. Trouble is, it’s going to be very hard to turn this around. But one way is, be careful who you Vote for. Put there Feet to the Fire, and find out why they believe, the way they do, before you give them your Vote.

  2. This nation was founded by Christians with the intent of protecting everyones right to worship Christianity any way they want without government involvement.

    This Government was formed around the Christian religion.

    We now allow Muslims to practice their faith in schools with full government protection.

  3. How much of the Bible would be left if we took out everything that was a dishonest (lie) or broke the ten commendments? I would like to tell all the religious people reading that I’m going to be morally right with or without the teachings of the Bible. I don’t think sex is a sin also now include porn. I’m not going to rape, pillage, burn and eat babies because I don’t believe there is a God. Lets face the facts most people living today are more holy then the authors of the Bible. Why spend your hard earn dollars on making liers rich.

  4. Mr. Gerzen, people came to this country because they wanted the freedom to practice their religion. It was founded because nobody wanted to pay their taxes if they didn’t get a vote. It also confuses me that the right thinks seperation of church and state is to keep the government out of the church. It’s like saying that freedom of speech means other people can’t say things you don’t like.

  5. I have heard that there are over 2000 different religions in this country, many of whom don’t believe in a God, quite a few who don’t believe in any Gods. The thing that I despise is that the people who argue the most over their rights are the ones who sensually don’t know what their rights are. These people, from my experience, are told what, when and why to say stuff. It just scares me that when the cattle are brought in on Sunday to get their weekly indoctrination, they can be programmed with any political, moral and ideological thinking and thus will not think for themselves or listen to anyone besides the people they were taught to listen to. I love playing “devil’s advocate,” especially since I don’t believe in a devil either, but I will pick on Christians by asking, if they believe in aliens? Most will say no and I will ask, then where is God from? If he created the earth, then she is not from the earth and that makes them extraterrestrial, alien, a creator from another space. This will usually confuse them and make them think! Be kind, teach a Christian to think for them self.

  6. Don’t you just love those Christians and their Christian ways, I mean beating up a kid because he won’t read from a bible at school even if it is illegal due to separation of church and state. Which lead to our currency and pledge. All this reminds me of the crusades, the inquisition, the armada, the witch hunts, the problem between the Muslim factions, when England became prosetent and then catholic again etc. Some day they will learn. Time has gotten better for religious freedoms. Since it wasn’t that long ago when and Atheist could not sign petitions. But we do have a long way to go.
    One thing I have to say though, the bible is not a book of lies. It is book of the beliefs of people who lived 2000 to 5000 years ago. These people saw the world in a very limited way, do to lack of knowledge. Remember science did not exist then and a religious figure was the one you asked to explain thing like what was thunder, and were did people come from. The bible is no different then other ancient writing of other religions. It is just sad the people can’t read and understand that the bible is just a book of superstions.
    One last thing, Christians in America, is a funny group. Most have never actually read that book that they say they believe in.

  7. This is how I hear the pledge:
    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation except for atheists, divisible, with liberty and justice for everyone but atheists.”

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