The House of Representatives has passed a resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto and calling for its display in public schools and other government buildings.
The non-binding resolution was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.). Although the motto’s place in American life would seem secure, Forbes insisted that it is under attack.
“What’s happened over the last several years is that we have had a number of confusing situations in which some people who don’t like the motto have tried to convince people not to put it up,” Forbes told The New York Times.
The resolution was approved on Nov. 1 by a 396-9 tally, with 26 members not voting and two voting “present.”
Of the “no” votes, eight were Democrats: U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Judy Chu (Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Robert C. Scott (Va.) and Pete Stark (Calif.).
Scott issued a statement critical of the House for taking up the matter and ignoring issues of poverty, joblessness and other urgent economic concerns.
“Instead of facing these challenges and creating jobs to help American people make sure they have a roof over their head and food on their table,” he said, “we are debating whether or not to affirm and proliferate a motto that was adopted in 1956 and is under no threat of attack. In addition to diverting attention away from substantive issues, the resolution is unconstitutional.”
The sole Republican to vote against the resolution was U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.
On his Facebook page, Amash said, “The fear that unless ‘In God We Trust’ is displayed throughout the government, Americans will somehow lose their faith in God, is a dim view of the profound religious convictions many citizens have. The faith that inspired many of the Founders of this country – the faith I practice – is stronger than that. Trying to score political points with unnecessary resolutions should not be Congress’s priority. I voted no.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State also criticized the measure.
“The American people want action on jobs and the economy, yet this Congress continues to waste time pandering to the Religious Right,” said Barry W. Lynn, AU executive director. “This meaningless, purely symbolic vote won’t create one job, help one family struggling to pay its mortgage or rebuild one piece of infrastructure.”
Added Lynn, “I think we know by now that this Congress likes God. Can we move on?”
“In God We Trust” was officially adopted as the national motto by act of Congress in 1956, during the height of the Cold War, and appears on American currency. The 1782 Great Seal of the United States, however, includes several Latin phrases, among them E Pluribus Unum (“Out of Many, One”) and Novus Ordo Seclorum (“A New Order of the Ages”).
Lynn said he believes these original mottos are more appropriate for America because they unify people and don’t divide on the basis of belief about religion.
In an opinion piece on the matter that ran in The Washington Post, Lynn wrote, “I’d like to see us get back to the spirit of ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ but I also know that the current legislative fetish for what some scholars call ‘civil religion’ makes that well nigh impossible. The resolution’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), wants to see us plaster the motto on every public building. Forbes reduces the phrase to a type of talisman; if you cling to it hard enough, it will ward off evil.”
Lynn noted that President Theodore Roosevelt opposed putting “In God We Trust” on coins. Roosevelt once remarked, “To put such a motto on coins or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.”
Observed Lynn, “Amen. Only Teddy didn’t go far enough. Using religious resolutions for displays of false piety, to fire a salvo at a political opponent or to foster another ‘culture war’ doesn’t come ‘dangerously close’ to sacrilege. It is sacrilege.”