Thursday, July 4, 2013


        In preparing this Fourth of July article I did some on-line research on the history of our use of the words “In God we trust” on our money and stamps. The original motto of the United States was secular: "E Pluribus Unum,” which literally translated is “out of many one," pointing to the fact that we are one country formed from many states.
        In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote what eventually became our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. The final stanza reads:
               "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'                                  
                And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
                o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave."
        In 1864 by an act of Congress the words "In God We Trust" were applied to a newly designed two-cent coin. The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since 1908.
        President Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of using the motto on coins or stamps.  He thought that cheapened the motto.  In 1956 at the height of the cold war, and in declaring its opposition to
“atheistic Communism,” Congress passed a joint resolution to replace the original motto with "In God we trust."  The new motto was first used on paper money in 1957.
        The phrase "under God" had been added to the otherwise secular Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. In that same decade  "So help me God" was added as a suffix to the oaths of office for federal justices and judges. The courts basically decided that the motto "In God we Trust" does not endorse religion. They’ve ruled that its use is purely patriotic or ceremonial.
         Do you remember when Madalyn Murray O'Hair successfully challenged compulsory prayer in U.S. public schools?  In 1963, this suit (amalgamated with the similar Abington School District v. Schempp) reached the United States Supreme Court which voted 8-1 in her favor, effectively banning "coercive" public prayer and Bible-reading at public schools in the United States.  The irony is that her son William, on whose behalf she filed her complaint, became a born-again Christian!  Madalyn herself was eventually murdered.
        The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. conducted a national survey which showed that "In God We Trust" was regarded as religious by an overwhelming percentage of U.S. citizens. So they initiated a lawsuit on June 8, 1994, in a Denver, Colorado, District Court to have it removed from U.S. paper currency and coins. They also wanted it to be discontinued as the national motto. Their lawsuit was dismissed by the Court without trial, on the grounds that "In God We Trust" is not a religious phrase!  The Tenth-Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed the dismissal.  The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review all of these rulings. That should be embarrassing to the justices inasmuch as the motto hangs on the wall at the Supreme Court.
        In 1962 a bill to reaffirm "In God We Trust" as the national motto, and the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was passed unanimously by the Senate and by near unanimous vote in the House.  Since then lower courts have decided that pre-game invocations by coaches, officials or students at high school football games were unconstitutional.  However, in 1995 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th circuit in Texas ruled that informal student-initiated, student led prayers at sporting events were constitutional.  Students may voluntarily pray together, provided such prayer is not done with school participation or supervision.
        Earlier the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a ruling allowing religious songs to be performed at school concerts as long as secular songs are also included. So it’s okay to sing "Silent Night," if it’s followed by by something like  “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas," or “Frosty the Snowman," or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
        So my question for this Independence Day is not about our being one nation, but about our being one nation UNDER GOD, as we profess to be in our Pledge of Allegiance.  On June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill adding those two words to the Pledge of  Allegiance. But on June 26, 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of an atheistic father, Dr. Newdow, who objected to his daughter’s being taught the pledge in school. The court found that the words “under God” were an unconstitutional endorsement of monotheism.
        The opposition to the court’s ruling was immediate and vehement.  The public was outraged.  The polls showed that 90% of Americans disagreed with the ruling.  The very next day after the ruling the US Senate voted unanimously in favor of the pledge as it stood.  The vote in the House was 413 to 3, with 11 abstentions.
        Attorneys General from all 50 states filed papers asking the Supreme Court to review the decision.  They finally agreed to do so, and on June 14, 2004, the Court unanimously rejected Newdow’s claim  —because he didn’t have custody of his daughter!  Thus the Court sidestepped the question of the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance!
        In August of 2005 the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held that teacher-led recitations of the Pledge did not violate the First Amendment.  The plaintiff, Edward Myers, did not appeal. And that’s where the matter presently stands.

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