In God do we really trust?

By Dan Streib

According to AP reports, a school in Texas is placing the national motto – “In God We Trust” – on a gymnasium wall. It had previously been painted over due to complaints by concerned parents. In Califorinia, controversy has erupted over whether the motto should be displayed inside a city hall.

This is all quite laughable because there is no controversy here. Our national slogan can be placed anywhere.

The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” There is nothing in the First Amendment that disallows the use of the word “God” – as long as it does not establish or promote religion.

If this is so, one who disagrees with our national motto has to prove that the motto itself promotes belief over nonbelief. Unfortunately for the anti-motto side, the facts of history are against them.

According to the Department of the Treasury’s Web site, the idea of placing “In God We Trust” on our coins was initially thought of during the Civil War. According to Rev. M. R. Watkinson in 1861, the fear was that if our country was destroyed, we might appear to be a “heathen nation” to future peoples. Responsive to this argument, Congress passed a new law to print the slogan on our currency.

Despite its origin among Christians, it is important to remember that Christianity was not mentioned, only God. Now, at first rub, there seems to be no room for the nonbeliever here. But as oftentimes is the case, one’s gut reaction can be quite misleading.

There is a very important fact to consider here: The nation was being torn apart. With this dire situation at hand, even a nonbelieving patriot would have to admit that giving a respectful nod to a God would be a nice gesture – just in case He was there and the nation did not survive.

Thus, our government, far from favoring belief over nonbelief, merely decided to print on our coins, “In God We Trust.” It was a statement of national hope and perseverance – evidently more patriotic than religious.

In 1956, only a couple of years after the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, the words on our coins were made the national motto (eventually replacing “E Pluribus Unum”).

The pledge change is an understandable reaction to the communist threat. In the middle of the Cold War, the scariest thing about communism was the idea held by most totalitarian regimes that nothing was greater than the state – for example, the state would long outlive its citizens. If the state was the only thing eternal, then ought not the citizens give it complete obedience? Did the crimes a state commit really matter if it was ultimate?

Seeing that our Pledge of Allegiance sounded ironically similar to the pledges Soviet children made (and in years prior, the ones the Nazis made German kids say), something was needed in the pledge to make America less than ultimate. Thus, God was placed into the pledge in order to differentiate America from the Soviets, not to force belief upon the people.

Similarly, distinguishing between ourselves and our enemies is a legitimate reason to make “In God We Trust” our motto. So is the fear of destruction that prompted it to be placed on our currency.

So, according to history, government is far away from establishing or even preferring religion when it uses the motto “In God We Trust.”

Given that the government is using God in a nonpromotional way, it is not pushing belief on the nation. However, those who fight our national motto due to a personal preference against God, are pushing their belief on the government – and subsequently onto the nation. Such actions against belief in God through the law serve as actions against the freedom to exercise religion. Subsequently those who try to violate the First Amendment in the name of the First Amendment must be stopped.

Dan is a sophomore in political science who is proud of his right to go to church this Sunday and others’ equivalent right not to.