Republican Rep. Mike Coffman is a co-sponsor of a resolution in the U.S. House that would reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto and encourage the posting of the motto on government buildings and in public schools. The resolution has raised the ire of secular groups who say the resolution is unnecessary and that it is discriminatory against non-believers as well as faithful Americans whose religious traditions do not involve a Judeo-Christian god.
The resolution reads in part, “Whereas the sentiment, ‘In God We Trust’, has been an integral part of United States society since its founding; Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured; Whereas in times of national challenge or tragedy, the people of the United States have turned to God as their source for sustenance, protection, wisdom, strength, and direction.”
That resolution has sparked concern among separation of church and state watchdogs. The Secular Coalition for America (SCA) sent a letter to members of the House Judiciary Committee urging them to reject the bill because it’s unnecessary because the motto is already written in law and that it shuts out millions of Americans.
“The motto is not inclusive of the beliefs of all Americans — including the millions of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists represented by our Coalition, as well as the millions of other Americans whose non-Judeo-Christian beliefs do not entail the use of the word ‘god,’” wrote Sean Faircloth, executive director of the SCA. “As we watch history unfold across northern Africa and the Middle East, it is wise to remember that it is our acceptance of all viewpoints and the unique plurality of our citizenry that makes our country strong.”
Here’s the full resolution followed by the full letter to the committee:
Reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States and supporting and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.
Whereas `In God We Trust’ is the official motto of the United States;
Whereas the sentiment, `In God We Trust’, has been an integral part of United States society since its founding;
Whereas in times of national challenge or tragedy, the people of the United States have turned to God as their source for sustenance, protection, wisdom, strength, and direction;
Whereas the Declaration of Independence recognizes God, our Creator, as the source of our rights, `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’;
Whereas the national anthem of the United States says `praise the power that hath made and preserved us as a nation . . . and this be our motto: in God is our trust.’;
Whereas the words `In God We Trust’ appear over the entrance to the Senate Chamber and above the Speaker’s rostrum in the House Chamber;
Whereas the oath taken by all Federal employees, except the President, states `I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.’;
Whereas John Adams said, `Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.’;
Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured;
Whereas as President Eisenhower said and President Ford later repeated, `Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life.’; and
Whereas President John F. Kennedy said, `The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and ever shall be `In God We Trust.’: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress reaffirms `In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States and supports and encourages the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.
The Secular Coalition for America urges you to oppose H. Con. Res. 13, a resolution that would unnecessarily reaffirm the phrase “In God We Trust” as our nation’s official motto. This resolution does not alter law in any way, thus its purpose is one of perception only. The motto is not inclusive of the beliefs of all Americans—including the millions of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists represented by our Coalition, as well as the millions of other Americans whose non-Judeo-Christian beliefs do not entail the use of the word “god.”
The resolution’s passage out of the House Judiciary Committee would continue to alienate millions of Americans from their government and encroach further on the nation’s tradition of separation of church and state.
As we watch history unfold across northern Africa and the Middle East, it is wise to remember that it is our acceptance of all viewpoints and the unique plurality of our citizenry that makes our country strong. Branding our secular country with a religious motto only creates division among its citizens and erodes the wall of separation between church and state.
The phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted only in 1956 during the McCarthy Era. For a secular nation that claims to provide equality, liberty, and freedom for all, the motto means that the beliefs of theists and nontheists are not treated the same at all. “In God We Trust” does not apply to the more than 16 percent of Americans who identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, nonreligious, or unaffiliated, and it does not apply to religious Americans who do not have Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Furthermore, by “supporting and encouraging” the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and government institutions, the resolution could create a costly and unnecessary obligation for thousands of local and state governments during a time when they have limited resources and embattled budgets.
Several points in the resolution need to be countered. For example, the phrase “In God We Trust” has not been around since our nation’s founding; it did not appear nationally until the mid-1800s and not widely until the 20th century.
Second, the Declaration of Independence does not ever mention “God,” only a “Creator,” an important word choice and difference. The Declaration, while significant and historic, is not a legal document. The Constitution is the foundational document of our government and never mentions “God.” The only references to religion in the Constitution are to prevent its use in oaths for government office, to prevent the government from establishing religion, and to protect each citizen’s right to religious freedom.
Third, while the oath of office for federal employees under 5 U.S.C section 3331 does include the sentence “So help me God,” the U.S. Constitution makes it very clear in Article VI that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” With that precedent in mind, perhaps Congress should revise the oath rather than waste time reaffirming a motto that excludes millions of constituents.
Fourth, and most importantly, in times of tragedy, anyone may turn to the religious deity of his or her choice if doing so provides them comfort; however, millions of Americans do not turn to God or any other deity in sorrowful times. To make a sweeping statement that “the people of the United States” turn to God is to alienate and blatantly exclude these taxpayers and constituents while favoring Judeo-Christian believers.
Finally, while the words of President John Adams are important, so are his actions. President Adams presented to the Senate and signed the Treaty of Tripoli in June 1797, which states that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion[.]”
Rather than wasting time on a resolution that in effect does nothing except alienate constituents and break down the wall of separation of church and state, the House Judiciary Committee should focus on protecting the rights of all U.S. citizens and the integrity of the Constitution.
Secular Coalition for America