Op/ed: "Our Motto Risks Becoming 'Over God We Fight'"

September 12, 2006

Source: Missouri Valley Times


On September 12, 2006 Missouri Valley Times published an opinion piece by Charles C. Haynes, a First Amendment Center senior scholar, "Lest we forget, our first national motto (adopted by the Founders in 1782) was E pluribus unum - out of many, one. But look around America these days and you'll see plenty of 'pluribus' but very little 'unum.' Divided and angry, many Americans are spoiling for a fight. Even something as innocuous as the 50th anniversary of our second national motto, 'In God We Trust,' is an occasion for culture warring on all sides. When adopted by Congress on July 30, 1956, 'In God We Trust' was intended to unite the nation against the scourge of 'godless communism.' But in an era of exploding religious diversity (including growing numbers of people with no religious preference), expressions of national unity sound like nostalgia for the '50s. The 'In God We Trust' anniversary is viewed as a godsend by culture warriors on one side. Long frustrated by what they see as the removal of God from public life (and dedicated to restoration of a 'Christian America'), some conservative Christian groups are using the anniversary to persuade city councils across the nation to post the motto in council chambers. At the same time, the American Family Association and other conservative religious groups are counting on the 'In God We Trust' celebration to speed up their efforts to display the motto in every public school classroom. Earlier this month, Ohio became the latest of many states to require that all state schools display any donated copies of the motto. AFA is ready to donate, boasting that more than half a million of their 'In God We Trust' posters have been distributed since 2001. Still stung by Supreme Court rulings striking down teacher-led prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in the classroom, many evangelical groups see the motto as a way to recover lost ground. Although student religious expression abounds in many public schools these days (including thousands of Christian clubs), that isn't enough for those who believe government must symbolically acknowledge a reliance on God. The brilliance of the 50th-anniversary strategy is obvious: What politician who cares about getting re-elected would dare oppose posting the national motto anywhere, anytime? No one wants to go back home and explain a vote against 'In God We Trust' - especially in a time of national crisis."