The Obama Administration has released their official response to petitions asking for the removal of the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” from the currency.
Nothing here is going to surprise anybody. Sometimes it seems that Obama is the living embodiment of phrases like “the essence of politics is compromise,” and “politics is the art of the possible.” The White House sends this one so cleanly down the middle that it doesn’t scrape the sides:
The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our nation. Our nation’s Bill of Rights guarantees not only that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens’ rights to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all.
Throughout our history, people of all faiths – as well as secular Americans – have played an important role in public life. And a robust dialogue about the role of religion in public life is an important part of our public discourse.
While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.
When he was a Senator from Illinois, President Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference where he spoke about the important role religion plays in politics and in public life.
A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.
That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God’ in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust’ on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the President said in his inaugural address, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.
Right now, the Republicans are trying to make “In God We Trust” the national motto … again. It was established in 1956, about the same time as the words “under God” were added to the Pledge. Still, the Republicans want to make extra special sure this time. No fingers crossed.
Since Obama is so fond of compromise, maybe I can suggest one. If we must mention a deity as a nod to ceremonial deism, let’s go back to the sorts of enlightenment terms that our founders used. Let’s drop “under God” and talk about the “Author of existence,” which was the phrase used in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. Or maybe the “Great Governor of the universe,” which comes from the Vermont Constitution of 1777. Of course, there’s also “nature and nature’s God” from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Or just go the full Masonic route and talk about the “Grand Architect of the Universe.”
These little phrases would satisfy no one, but isn’t that the point of compromises like this?