‘In God we trust,’ when politically convenient

The House of Representatives on November 1 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.” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/house-vote-to-reaffirm-in-god-we-trust-as-national-motto-59976/)

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.”
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.

We are a diverse population, and E pluribus unum 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.

About Herb Silverman

Herb Silverman is Founder and President of the Secular Coalition for America, and founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston, South Carolina. He was founder and faculty advisor to the College of Charleston student Atheist/Humanist Alliance. He is a board member of the American Humanist Association as well as a Humanist Celebrant, advisory board member of the Secular Student Alliance, and member of the Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He has served on the boards of the Atheist Alliance and the Humanist Institute. He has written for "On Faith" at the Washington Post and for the Huffington Post. He has spoken at a number of conferences and written articles for many freethought publications. He has appeared in a number of debates on topics like: Can we be moral without God? Does God exist? Is America a Christian nation? He has also debated at the Oxford Union in Oxford, England on the topic: Does American Religion Undermine American Values? Here is information on his recent book, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00843758098631948181 Scout

    Maybe they could change it to something like "In conscience we trust". That would accomodate both theists and non-theists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    This is nonsense. I really don’t think the number of actual Atheist, or even Atheists and Agnostics, is 16%. I also don’t really buy the idea that most Atheists are all that offended by “In God We Trust”. Most I knowing person couldn’t care less. Its rather bizarre being an Englishman in America. You complain about a very unnoticeable Phrase as if it causes Riots in the Streets whilst I come from a Constitutionally Christian Country with an Established Church that has Bishops in Parliament. I’ve even seen Atheists praise “Secular Britain”! its just too much.

    Even if 16% of the populace were outright Atheist who felt offended, that’s still 84% united behind “in God We trust”, which is more unifying than the very political system on which the Republic is based. That’s more than voted for the current President. Electoral Politics by nature are a divisive affair, and cause far more social unrest than the motto, so lets hear you complain about that first.

    I’m not trying to be rude but, this sort of frivolous assertion makes no sense to me. It hurts no one and a far larger majority like it than like most other things, and you say its not uniting. Well, nothing will unite us 100%. Is a reference to God really all that bad though? God is not Religion, any more so than Atheism is lack of Religion. Religion is not all about belief in God.

    Why Can’t Atheist simply see God as a Cultural Symbol representing our Highest Ideals of Justice, or the embodiment of Nature, and allow God to remain as a Cultural icon. Its not like it really effects your actual Rights.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    Oh, by the way, GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    ZAROVE is correct on this point–the sentence "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" is claiming agreement from a group that includes a significant percentage of believers in God who probably don't agree with the sentiment.

    Self-identified theists and agnostics are, combined, only a single-digit percentage of the U.S. population according to both the American Religious Identity Survey and Pew Research.

    To quote my own comment on another claim that atheists are "more than 10%" of the population:

    ARIS (2008) puts self-identified atheists at 0.7% of the population and agnostics at 0.9%. 2.3% of those surveyed completed “Regarding the existence of God, do you think …” with “there is no such thing”; 4.3% with “there is no way to know”, 5.7% with “I’m not sure”, and 12.1% with “there is a higher power but no personal God.” Pew’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (2008) puts atheists at 1.6% of the population and agnostics at 2.4%.

    I’m not aware of any surveys that show U.S. atheists at anywhere near 10% of the population. There are occasional claims by atheists that conflate what ARIS calls the “nones” and what Pew calls the “unaffiliated” with atheists, but that’s misrepresentation since a sizable number of the unaffiliated are believers in God or a higher power (many are “spiritual but not religious”; some are Christians who characterize their religious belief as “relationship not religion”).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    Thank you, Mr. Lippard. I should also like to note that you can’t “Restore” E Publius Unum because it’s never been lost. If you look on the back of any US Coin, or on any US Bank Note, you still will find E Publius Unum. It’s not like the Phrase is absent just because “In God We Trust’ is present.

    I'd also still like to know, even with the 16% figure used here, how 85% of the people doens't redlect a Unity. That's still more unifyinfg than anything else…