Sunday, March 20, 2011

'In God We Trust': House GOP's Motto Muddle

House Republicans have taken a break from their busy schedule of slashing budgets for crucial social programs to focus on something as truly momentous as it is worthwhile: a reaffirmation of "In God We Trust" as the official motto of the United States.
The US House of Representatives will have a chance to vote on a resolution to affirm the phrase "In God We Trust" as the nation’s official motto after it was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), the founder and chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, sponsored the legislation. It would encourage the public display of the motto in all public buildings, public schools and government institutions.

He said he introduced the bill in January because he was troubled by a pattern of omitting God from the nation's heritage.

"There is a small minority who believes America does not have the right to trust in God, who believes the United States should not affirm trust in God, and who actively seek to remove any recognition of that trust," Forbes said.
'In God We Trust' replaced the previous de facto motto of 'E Pluribus Unum' when it was adopted as the official US motto in 1956, one year after the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Critics of the motto, and of the resolution to see it re-affirmed, contend the motto violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which holds "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion."
"The phrase ‘In God We Trust’ does not apply to the more than 16 percent of Americans who identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, nonreligious, or unaffiliated, and it does not apply to religious Americans who do not have Judeo-Christian beliefs," said Sean Faircloth, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. "Branding our secular country with a religious motto only creates division among its citizens and erodes the wall of separation between church and state."
I tend to agree with Mr. Faircloth on this one. Affirming the right of individuals and groups within the US to publicly profess their religiosity is one thing, but shoe-horning God into what should theoretically be the single most inclusive phrase in US public life dramatically oversteps the affirmation of this right. Despite Forbes' half-assed attempt at inclusivity in declaring the resolution and motto are not "just about Christians," he of course absolutely neglects the sizable and increasing population of US citizens who claim no religious affiliation, and also the millions of religious people in the US for whom the Divine is not reducible to the idea of 'God.' No, it seems like it might be about time to consider a new motto for the country. Any suggestions?

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