About a month ago, I attended a public meeting in Vancouver, Washington. The Clark County Board of Councilors had decided that, among their many pressing matters of business, priority should be given to the question of whether “In God We Trust” should go up on the wall in their public hearing room. Public testimony took half a day.
The motion didn’t pass that day, but it was raised again and passed later that month (at a meeting with fewer citizens and less press, I’m guessing). One local paper said that hundreds of staff hours were also consumed by this project.
You might say that it’s not my business to criticize the wishes of the good people of Clark County, but that’s not who was behind this. This proposal wasn’t in response to a groundswell of public demand. Rather, one council member thought that it made sense to push this motion—whether for the good of the county or as his own personal posturing I can’t say.
I won’t go into details of this process since it has been nicely handled by the Ask an Atheist podcast and the Friendly Atheist blog (1, 2, 3). Instead, I’d like to summarize a few problems with this popular initiative and suggest a better way out.
Why “In God We Trust” in public buildings is a stupid idea
The public meetings made clear why this was a bad idea. Emotions ran high, with citizen speakers on both sides drawing applause from their partisans. This is a divisive issue.In God We Trust-America, the California organization that is pushing for “In God We Trust” displays in local government buildings nationwide, says that this is “To promote patriotism.” What then are they saying about people who dislike “In God We Trust” glaring down at them from the wall behind their elected representatives? Apparently, those citizens aren’t patriotic. In Clark County, only Christians and perhaps Jews can be patriotic. And does “In God We Trust” behind the Board of Councilors mean that the Christian god is the final arbiter for all their decisions?
More than just atheists are left out. The baggage behind this slogan makes clear that this “God” is the Christian god—so too bad for believers of other faiths—and many Christians are outraged at this kind of hijacking of their religion by politicians.
I would’ve thought that the Board would want every citizen to feel included. Not a high priority, I guess.
You just gotta put something patriotic up on the wall? Here’s a better idea.
If you’re going to do anything in this department, put up the previous motto, E Pluribus Unum. “In God We Trust” is a shapeless religious platitude that could fit 50 countries, but E Pluribus Unum—that is, “Out of Many, One”—captures the essence of the people of the United States coming from all parts of the globe to forge a single great country.
E Pluribus Unum is precisely the opposite of an exclusionary slogan, and the Seattle Chapter of the Satanic Temple has a nice way to showcase the plurality and the unity. Click their proposed image below to read more on their Facebook page.
You have confused a War on Religion
with not getting everything you want.
— Jon Stewart
Image credit: Wikipedia