The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted in favor of a Congressional resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto and supporting its placement on public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions. This House Concurrent Resolution 13, which passed by a vote of 396 to 9, with 2 voting present, was sponsored by Representative Randy Forbes (R-Va.). He added, “As our nation faces challenging times, it is appropriate for Members of Congress and our nation — like our predecessors – to firmly declare our trust in God, believing that it will sustain us for generations to come.”
What Forbes and many other Americans fail to recognize or acknowledge is that “In God We Trust” only became our official motto in 1956, at the height of the Cold War and the McCarthy witch-hunt for communists, as a means to separate us from godless communism. The de facto motto established by our founders had been E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “out of many, one.” We are a diverse population, and this phrase confirms American diversity as our source of strength. We are one nation made up of people from many lands, and people of many faiths and none. Similarly, during the McCarthy era, the words “under God” were added to our inclusive “one nation, indivisible” Pledge of Allegiance.
Such sectarian religious propaganda fails to unite us. The phrase “In God We Trust” does not apply to more than 16 percent of Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, humanist, nonreligious, or unaffiliated. There are millions of good Americans who simply do not believe in a deity, let alone trust one. Branding our secular country with a religious motto only creates division among its citizens and erodes the wall of separation between church and state. Our secular government should neither impose a religious motto on its citizens nor give an official stamp of approval to a particular religious worldview.
This House Resolution sends an inappropriate message that the religious views of certain Americans stand superior to others. Do we need the State to serve as our pastors, reminding us to be faithful? We are reinforcing power in the State to watch over our religious activities, a blatant offense to the separation of church and state.
Freedom of religion is one of our fundamental liberties. Nobody has the right to “establish” any religious sentiment, or claim to speak for all Americans on this important issue. We are a nation of laws, a country that respects the freedom of and freedom from religion for every American. Those of us who would like to restore the movingly appropriate “E pluribus unum” are being true to our country’s historic traditions.
Our secular government must remain neutral with respect to religion. A government that feels entitled to tell you to trust in God can also feel entitled to tell you there is no God.