January 25, 2011

In God Some Trust: Some Left Feeling Disenfranchised

Quarter Dollar with "In God we trust"
By Francis Nye

Lake Forest, California has become Orange County's 14th city to support placing the motto "In God We Trust" on the walls of its City Council chambers.

"It is the original motto to become part of our decoration," Councilwoman Marcia Rudolph said. "If we don't follow history we will be doomed to follow our mistakes."

I must admit I am not sure what this statement made by the councilwomen really means. What mistakes does she refer to? And is she saying that the motto, “In God we trust” is the original motto of the United States? What I do know, since I am an avid coin collector, that the motto was first used on our coinage in 1864. First appearing on the two-cent coin and since 1938, all coins have borne this motto.

The United States has had many mottos during the founding of the nation but “In God we trust” is not among them. Moreover, this motto does not appear in any of the founding documents of this nation. The earliest recorded record of this motto that I have found is from the final stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner. Written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key (and later adopted as the U.S. national anthem), the song contains an early reference to a variation of the phrase: "...And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'.

The motto is opposed for a variety of reasons, but is still widely supported by a majority of Americans. According to a 2003 Gallup Poll, 90% of Americans approve of the inscription on U.S. coins. It is interesting to note that President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money.

Some critics contend that the motto's placement on money constitutes the establishment of a religion or a church by the government, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Separation of church and state. The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." However I disagree. True the government is not selecting one religion over another however in the eyes of Atheists the government is giving its seal of approval on the very existence of a God. This is something that our founding fathers did not intend. They intended that the government stay out of ALL religious affairs.

The Lake Forest council voted, 3-2, in favor of installing the motto; Mayor Peter Herzog and Mayor pro tem Mark Tettemer voted against the idea.

Other cities including Brea, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Buena Park, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Tustin, Cypress, Yorba Linda, Westminster and San Clemente have voted to have "In God We Trust," displayed at their city halls.

Bakersfield’s Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan has been working for nearly a decade to bring the words "In God We Trust" to city, county and state chambers across the country. In California, 75 cities and two counties – Imperial and San Bernardino – have added the motto.

I personally oppose this motto. It violates the principle of the separation of church and state. If the government asserts a religious identity, then the government exceeds the scope of its authority. The motto says “in God ‘WE’ trust” “We” all do not recognize the existence of God. So what are “We” really saying? If you do not believe in God you are not a true American. That you are some how unpatriotic, that you are not part of the American society. It makes one feel like an outsider in his own country. This motto itself is really an un-American statement when you think about it. It forces a way of life on an otherwise free society. Maybe the motto should be changed to say, “In God SOME trust” or “In God MOST trust” this is a more accurate and acceptable motto in my view. It doesn’t presume that all of us believe in God or that all of us are forced to believe against our free will.

I think a better national motto should be; “E pluribus unum” which translated from Latin is, “Out of many, one”. This motto is found on the reverse side of our currency. This is a more accurate statement regarding the United States. From many states or peoples we are one people; one people with a common identity; citizens of the Untied States.

I think Bruce Gleason founder of Backyard Skeptics, an atheists group may have said it best, "The motto may make you feel more righteous, but religion is best kept at a distance in a secular government."

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