'In God We Trust' motto makes comeback
The phrase, “In God We Trust” celebrates an anniversary this year and is enjoying something of a revival in being displayed in public places, but there's irony in that, a Duquesne University law professor said.
Courts allowing In God We Trust in places like city council meeting rooms means that the motto has become “a historical and ceremonial phrase” devoid of religious meaning, said Nick Cafardi of New Sewickley, dean emeritus of the university's law school. So, too, has prayer before public meetings, he said.
“The courts are saying these things are OK because they've lost all religious meaning,” he said.
The private nonprofit, In God We Trust — America Inc., is pushing city and county governments nationwide to display the motto to promote patriotism.
Butler County commissioners last month voted to place the phrase in its meeting room, and Butler city officials followed suit a few days later.
State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, is pushing to get “In God We Trust” displayed in public schools. Lawmakers on Wednesday amended his legislation to make posting the motto optional, but said it could apply to charter schools.
An Eighty Four man made a medallion commemorating the 150th anniversary of “In God We Trust,” which first appeared on coins in 1864 and became the national motto in 1957. The medallions are for sale through his organization, the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists.
“It's not political or an in-your-face religion type thing. I just wanted to tell the story about the motto,” said Nick Uram, association president.
The motto appeared on a two-cent coin in 1864. Three years earlier, the Rev. Mark R. Watkinson, troubled by the Civil War, had written Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, asking, “One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God on some form of our coins. What if our republic were now shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation?”
Chase urged U.S. Mint Director James W. Pollock, Pennsylvania's 13th governor from 1855 to 1858, “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”
Pollock agreed, and Congress formally put the motto on coins beginning April 22, 1864.
Congress designated the phrase as the national motto in 1956, replacing “E Pluribus Unum,” during the Cold War when the Soviet Union represented a godless state. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation into law. The following year, the motto began appearing on paper money.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it was unlikely to challenge Butler County's decision to display the motto.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, 19.6 percent of Americans were unaffiliated with any religion.
Monday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that prayers that open town council meetings don't violate the Constitution, as long as they do not denigrate nonChristians or proselytize.
Critics said that's further proof that the lines between church and state are being blurred.
“Our objection is that it's a fundamentally religious statement, and that somehow God is involved in governments,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “A lot of people in America don't believe that.”
Cafardi said that to him, In God We Trust says, “We have faith in our creator,” but he does worry “that those who don't believe those words, they may feel excluded from the function of government.”
“The law is pretty clear by now,” Cafardi said. “Prayer before a legislative session and the motto are not really endorsements of religion.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.