A quick look at what’s been happening the past few years in North Carolina — and is still happening — perfectly illustrates why constant vigilance is required to keep religion out of government.
Evangelical Christians never rest, it seems, in trying to insert and embed religious notions as widely as possible in the public square, especially in official local civic bodies and, most particularly, schools.
In the latest incident, reported by North Carolina CBS affliliate WFMY News2, Alamance County commissioners voted February 18 in favor of “permanently and prominently” displaying “In God We Trust” on all county non-sheriff’s vehicles. County Manager Bryan Hagood noted the signage, expected to begin appearing on vehicles in a few weeks, is privately funded, as though that solves the church-state separation issues.
Alamance County Commissioner Steve Carter, who introduced the “In God We Trust” signage resolution, leads Alamance Conservatives, which also earlier proposed putting the same religious phrase on sheriff’s office patrol cars.
Movement began in 2002
A movement in North Carolina to affix the slogan far and wide in the state’s government buildings began in 2002 in Davidson County, when former Davidson Count Commissioner Rick Lanier co-founded the US Motto Action Committee to approach counties and encourage them to place the motto in civic buildings.
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) sued to stop placement of the motto in the Davidson county government building. But a U.S. district court and court of appeals subsequently upheld it, and then the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a final appeal, which gave the county the go-ahead.
In 2017 when North Carolina’s Johnson County voted to display the phrase in its courthouse, Lanier dismissed talk of a possible lawsuit, saying no legal challenges had been raised against the practice in years.
“This effort is legal and there is nothing to challenge,” Lanier wrote in a letter to commissioners before their vote, according to a county report. “Elected officials like you are showing a commitment to the values that our country was founded upon.”
The county’s courthouse then became the 87th government venue to display the motto in North Carolina. Among earlier adopters wee the Angier Town Board in Harnett County, which voted to display the phrase in 2016, and the Wallace Town Board in Duplin County in 2015. Sheriff’s vehicles in various counties also prominently display the motto.
This is not just a North Carolina thing. The motto is also being continuously pushed by evangelical Christian organizations on government bodies and schools nationwide, and many of them are agreeing. This is how religion perpetuates, by making sure its ideas are prominently and constantly displayed everywhere. Read my earlier post on how it is being inserted in schools, here.
It’s the national motto, after all
Complicating reasonable push-back against a clear violation of constitutionally mandated separation of “church and state,” meaning religion and government, is definition and history. The phrase has adorned U.S. currency since 1864, adapted during the horrors of the Civil War, and it is also engraved about the entrance to the U.S. Senate Chamber as well as above the speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives.
Unfortunately for the argument of church-state separatists, during U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, the Congress approved “In God We Trust” as the nation’s official motto. It was at the height of the “Red Scare” of Communist fear, and lawmakers wanted to send a message to “godless” Russia.
Then, in 2011, the U.S. House reaffirmed the national motto — in a nearly unanimous 396-9 vote. Read my previous posts on various “In God We Trust” issues regarding money here and government adornment here.
Of course, “God” is an inherently religious concept, so it is difficult for nonreligious Americans to see its injection into government as constitutionally protected. What about the religious freedom to be free of religious enforcement, as represented by a clearly religious national motto that all Americans must observe? Atheists don’t trust in God, for example, but must put up with a national motto that implies they should.
Believers, believers everywhere
An essential disconnect in this issue is that most Americans are still God-believing Christians, and probably most religious non-Christians also believe in supernatural deities. And they all come from a long line of religious people going back centuries, so belief seems so natural that it’s hard for them to comprehend that many, many others aren’t — more than a fifth of the populace and growing fast.
As Davidson County (NC) Sheriff David Grice noted after commissioners there voted to put “In God We Trust” on dozens of sheriff’s department cruisers in 2016:
“If there’s a God, there has to be a devil right? And we deal with the devil’s work every day. That wasn’t the goal to do anything political or whatever. That’s why we didn’t announce it. We just put it on there because it’s what we believe in.”
But that’s the fundamental question, isn’t it: “If there’s a God …”
It’s just not being asked by elected officials who vote to force inherently religious ideas on all Americans.
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