With an open mind and two sides of the story, you’re bound to learn something new.
Welcome to the zoo! This is a blog where both the Republican and Democratic viewpoints are represented. The blog is not meant to sway you either way necessarily, just to present both sides of the story. You may not agree with the whole article, but hey, you’re likely to agree with half! The topic this week: references to God in the U.S. government.
“In God We Trust.” “One Nation Under God.” “So Help Me God.”
God appears everywhere in the United States government: on governmental buildings, in official documents and pledges, on our currency. This plethora of ‘God’ references is ironic considering that the United States was founded upon the principles of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. The population in the United States represents members of a diverse assortment of hundreds of religions, and close to a quarter of all Americans do not identify with a religion.
I understand the importance of religion to many, but it belongs in the private, not public, sector. Religion already negatively impacts social rights, like abortion and gay marriage, so why do we continue to insert religion in a government that was founded upon the separation of church and state? The First Amendment boasts the right of all citizens to freedom of religion. The Supreme Court held that children should not be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school because the words “one nation under God” made many students uncomfortable. If the Supreme Court found that it was unjust to require students to recite these words, then why must we say them at all? We are one nation whether or not it is “under God.”
The claim that we should not remove the references to God in the government for the sake of tradition is invalid. The original Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 and declared the official Pledge in 1942, did not have the words “under God” in it. That portion was only added in 1956. Congress created a law that mandated “In God We Trust” be added to all paper currency in 1955; that statement was not on our paper money until that year. References to God were added to governmental entities in the 1950s because of the religious resurgence that happened in the late 1950s in response to World War II. Americans turned to religion after the atrocities that occurred during the war and the population increased significantly with the baby boomer generation; religious institutions expanded accordingly. The so-called tradition of having God’s presence in our government only began about fifty years ago; we have disrespected the Framers, who wanted the United States to be a secular democratic republic, not a theocracy, by adding such religious fervor to our government in recent years.
The country was founded by Christian white men, not Christian principles. Our country is no longer run solely by Christian white men, and our official buildings and documents should reflect this change. We have progressed tremendously as a nation since the founding of our country, and it is only fitting that we continue to do so to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their religion, are equal in the United States.
Religious expression, which the Constitution protects, is welcome in the United States, as long as it does not dominate our government.
“In God We Trust” is about more than religion; it is tied into the history of our country, our nationalism, and hope. The first found references to the motto are found in the fourth stanza of the poem written shortly before the end of the War of 1812 between the fledgling United States and its former mother country, Great Britain. That poem describing Francis Scott Key’s joy when the dawn’s early light revealed an American flag atop Fort McHenry after a perilous fight was eventually set to music to become our iconic National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The United States was founded on Christian principals and the founding fathers wished to acknowledge that fact all over D.C. buildings, in official documents, and in historical speeches. President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time” and asked “can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are of God?” John Adams wrote “our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people, it is totally inadequate to the government of any other.” The founding fathers attributed the morality of our country and the novel freedoms of our emerging nation to God.
The U.S. Department of Treasury states that “In God We Trust” was first inscribed on United States coins largely because of increased religious sentiment that existed during the Civil War. During a time when the United States was most divided, religion gave us hope as a reminder that our country was founded on shared principles with unifying power. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 140 that made “In God We Trust” the national motto to be displayed on all paper and coin currency, and consequently on many buildings as well. Eisenhower envisioned that religion would have a place in public life, stating “in this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.” Moreover, the powerful words “In God We Trust” are also believed to play a role in nationalistic propaganda; as part of the cultural war against godless communism during the Cold War, a 1955 congressional vote elected to place the motto on all U.S. money. For this reason, ten years ago a federal judge ruled “In God We Trust” to be more secular than religious, throwing out attorney Michael Newdow’s case to remove the phrase in respect of atheists.
Furthermore, people fighting against the motto are missing the reality that religion is rooted in our country, both on our currency and buildings, in ways beyond words. For example, our $1 bill portrays an eagle and a pyramid with an eye. The final design was created by a Philadelphia merchant who identified the eye as referring to the ways in which divine providence favored the American cause. And even this version is far less religious than Franklin and Jefferson’s vision containing references to the parting of the Red Sea under the motto “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” This use of religious imagery has been seen throughout history, from the Greek and Roman coins printing images of deities and temples all the way to the present.
In accordance with the First Amendment, we are not trying to use religion in the discourse of state policy. Rather, religion and the motto “In God We Trust” are embedded in our nation as a part of the founding and history of the United States. This history deserves to be represented and preserved.
Rebecca Saber is a junior government major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She aspires to be Secretary of State, but is willing to settle for Supreme Court Justice. When she is not writing about politics, Rebecca can be found watching TV in her bed or at some musical theater rehearsal. Welcome to the Zoo appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. If you want to chat, Rebecca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie Barlow is a junior biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences. When not debating politics, she can be found running half marathons, eating mashed potatoes, and teaching tree climbing for COE. Welcome to the Zoo appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. If you’re up for a chat, Katie can be reached at email@example.com.