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Basis, suitability and proposed uses  

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Biblical basis for the "In God We Trust" motto:

From the King James Version of the Bible:

bullet2 Kings 18:21-22 "But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?"
bullet2 Samuel 22:3 " The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence."
bulletPsalm 31:6 "I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD."
bulletPsalm 56:11 "In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me."
bulletIsaiah 12:2 "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation."
bullet1 Timothy 6:17 "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy."

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Is the current motto suitable?

Some random thoughts on the suitability of the motto "In God We Trust":

bulletA public opinion survey would probably show that he motto has overwhelming support by American adults. Surveys generally show that 95% or more of adults believe in some form of deity or some form of "higher power," and that about 75% of American adults are Christian. The motto matches their beliefs closely.
bulletThe motto is, in fact, untrue. An accurate statement would be "In God, Some of Us Trust." Followers of Agnosticism, Atheism, Deism, Humanism, and some traditions within Buddhism, Satanism and Unitarian Universalism do not believe in an intrusive, omni-present personal deity. Thus they could not trust such a God. 
bulletThe motto refers to "God," not to Gods, a Goddess or Goddesses. Thus it marginalizes followers of most Aboriginal religions, Goddess religions, Hinduism, Santeria, Vodun, Wicca and other Neopagan religions who believe that more than one deity exists and who believe that both male and female deities exist. 
bulletThe motto does appear to promote theistic religions as superior to those non-theistic religions as listed above. It also seems to promotes a religious approach to life in favor of a secular lifestyle. Various conservative Christian organizations, such as the American Family Association, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, etc. appear to agree that the motto is religious; they have enthusiastically supported the expansion of its use. The motto would appear to be in violation of the principle of separation of church and state. Yet it has, so far, been consistently declared constitutional by federal courts, because it is not seen as promoting religion. 
bulletIt would also appear to be an undesirable motto, in comparison to its predecessor.  "E Pluribus Unum" ("One [nation] out of many [parts]") emphasizes the unity of the America, as formed from many states. It might even be re-interpreted as the creation of a single, peaceful state out of a diverse group of people who differ in matters of religion, race, language, gender, ethnicity and other factors. "In God We Trust" divides Americans into two groups: theists who believe in a single, male deity and everyone else. It marginalizes the latter and seems to imply that they are un-patriotic and un-American. This would seem to conflict with the prime justification for a motto, which is to create unity. 1

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Recent attempts to expand the uses of the motto:

Many conservative Christian individuals and organization promote the increased acknowledgement of Christianity in the public square. They point out what they see as a decline in decency, school violence and civil behavior since compulsory prayer in public schools was declared unconstitutional. They believe that they may be able to change this trend by altering the policies of public schools to reinstate compulsory morning prayer, add Bible teaching in the classroom, read prayers during graduation ceremonies and recite prayers at sports events

Secularists and others who promote the separation of church and state generally oppose the expansion of the role of religion in public schools and government facilities. They believe that most students will interpret the motto as promoting belief in the Judeo-Christian God, thus marginalizing non-Judeo-Christian students. Marginalization of students is one of the main causes of school violence and killings.

This difference of opinion has produced conflicts over the national motto:

bullet2000-MAY-10: American Family Association distributes motto posters: The American Family Association (AFA) has filled orders for over 1,800 copies of their "In God We Trust" poster. In addition, they have distributed almost 250 framed posters to elected officials on Capitol Hill. The president of AFA, Don Wildmon, commented: "Our national motto reflects the beliefs which our forefathers held, that trust in God is the bedrock precept of this noble experiment we call America. The ACLU and liberal judges may not allow the posting of the Ten Commandments, but they cannot prohibit the posting of our national motto! Students walking down the hall will see and read this motto, and they may even be influenced by it. That is something the Supreme Court was afraid would happen when they made posting the Ten Commandments illegal." 2
bullet2000-JUL-6: Colorado: Posting of the motto in public schools: The Colorado State Board of Education voted 5-1 to approve a non-binding resolution that encouraged "appropriate display" of the "In God we trust" motto in public schools and other public buildings. This is believed to be the first such resolution by a state board in the U.S. The vote was divided on party lines: 5 Republicans were in favor, 1 Democrat was opposed. Some comments were:
bullet Board Chairman Clair Orr, the main sponsor of the resolution, said: "The words we pass on to our young can shape their destiny and the destiny of this land. Our nation has lost its way on the road of virtue and moral character the very fabric needed for a people to govern themselves on the foundation of liberty and justice."
bulletSue Armstrong, executive director of the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union, commented: "This is the god of the Christians and Jews...The arguments go back to religious motivation. If we're talking about teaching a heritage to our students, then let's put it in our history lessons." " She said that the ACLU might sue if the motto is displayed in schools.
bulletGully Stanford, the Democrat who voted against the resolution, said: "We are a much more pluralistic nation than we were at the founding of our nation. In this pluralistic society, we must question the proclamation of one belief to the exclusion of another...Clair seeks to revive the religious significance of the motto, and in doing so I think he is proposing religious preference in our schools and that crosses the line of separation of church and state."
bulletJoseph Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State had urged board members to reject the resolution: "They seem to be trying to inject religion into public schools in an inappropriate way. What they are doing is giving bad advice to local school districts. If they follow the advice they could easily end up in court.
bulletRabbi Steven Foster, a member of the Denver Interfaith Alliance, said: "I see this as part of a plan by the religious right...If they can't get the Ten Commandments, this year they will settle for 'In God we trust,' and next year they will go for the Ten Commandments." 3,4
bullet2000-AUG-11: Colorado: More on school posting: The Jefferson County School District in Colorado voted unanimously to not post the "In God we Trust" motto in its 145 schools. The American Atheists, the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, and seven private individuals attended the board meeting in opposition to the motto. 
bulletMargie Wait, Colorado State Director of American Atheists stated, in part: "Posting the motto in the schools will send the message to those who do not share a belief in the Judeo-Christian God that they are second class citizens; that they somehow deserve to be less successful in life than their believing classmates.
bulletA local Unitarian minister said, "I urge all of us here to do religious education, but not in [sic] the walls of our public schools." 
bulletScott Schneider, a parent, suggested that teachers confine their activity to teaching secular subjects and not be drawn into religion: "No one is better qualified than me [sic] to provide religious instruction.
bulletTwo individuals favored the motto in order to promote their religious beliefs or to halt the alleged moral decline of the nation. One parent from the nearby Columbine High School stated that: "Our nation has so many freedoms built into it that we have to have some morality installed [sic] in our populace or these freedoms just won't work.5
bullet 2001-FEB: Virginia: "In God we Trust" bill defeated. State Senator Warren E. Barry introduced a bill making the recitation of the pledge of allegiance mandatory for every Virginian public school student. Any student who refused to recite the pledge, without a valid philosophical or religious objection, would be suspended. Delegate Robert G. Marshall suggested that the bill be amended to require school buildings carry the national motto. The amendment was rejected by the Senate Education and Health Committee.
bullet2001-JUN: Mississippi: The legislature passed an unfunded mandate to require all public classrooms auditoriums and cafeterias to display the national motto. State Senator Alan Nunnalee, sponsor of the legislation, said: "Prayer and the Ten Commandments have been removed from the classrooms, and I was looking for a way to put back the values I feel that our country was founded upon. Educators know that visual reinforcement is an important part of learning. And if that's the case, it's important that we visually reinforce the foundation of our nation." Kenneth Briggs, a printer from Perl, MS, has donated 35,000 posters containing the motto to Mississippi's schools. 6
bullet2002-MAY-29: VA: Governor signs bill mandating "In God We Trust" posters in schools: Virginia Gov. Mark Warner signed a bill into law that requires public schools to hang posters containing the motto "In God We Trust." Apparently there was no mechanism for funding the posters. However, a private donor contributed the necessary money to print and distribute the posters. 7

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletMottos, pledges & symbols
bulletThe history and constitutionality of the National Mottos
bulletPledge of Allegiance
bulletState religious mottos
bulletMunicipal government symbols

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References used in this essay:

  1. Jay Tamboli, "In God We Trust: Why Atheists cannot be Americans," at: http://www.tamboli.com/jay/god.html 
  2. Donald Wildmon, "Let the Wailing Begin,"  American Family Association, at: http://www.afa.net/resources/poster1.asp
  3. Brian Weber, "Board pushes 'In God We Trust'," at: http://insidedenver.com/news/0707trus1.shtml
  4. Katherine Vogt, "School 'In God we trust' posting backed," Associated Press, at:  http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/national/god07.shtml 
  5. "Colorado school district rejects state plea to display religionized 'In God we Trust' national motto," AANews, 2000-AUG-11.
  6. Dave Clark, "Miss. students to see 'In God We Trust'," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0016496.html
  7. Bob Kellogg, "Va. Schools to Hang 'In God We Trust' Posters," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0020913.html

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Other Internet references:

bulletR.C. Reynolds, "In God we trust; All others pay cash," at: http://home.flash.net/~lbartley/au/issues/godtrust.htm 
bulletSuzy Meyer, "'In God We Trust' belongs in parent's curriculum," Cortez (CO) Journal, at: http://www.cortezjournal.com/edit147.htm 
bullet"In God We Trust: II Timothy 1:12," Grace Baptist Church, Bloomington IN, at: http://www.brandonweb.com/gbt/sermonpages/
bulletPastor Randy, "In God We Trust: Psalm 33:6-12," at: http://www.fortresschurch.org/pr-ingodwetrust.htm   

Copyright 2000 to 2002 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-AUG-13
Latest update: 2002-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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