It may come as a shock to you, but I am older than our official national motto.
What is our national motto? "In God We Trust." And when did one of our presidents sign the bill passed by Congress to make it our national motto? On this date in 1956. Ike signed it. So Americans lived without a national motto for 180 years and now have lived with this one for 53 years. (For the record, America existed only 168.5 years without me -- and without much complaining about it, too.)
Now, that doesn't mean that "In God We Trust" wasn't widely used before 1956. Oh, indeed, it was. As this history of the motto from the U.S. Treasury Department reports, the motto first was used on U.S. coins in the 1860s -- right in the middle of our Civil War.
I raise all this to suggest there is a real and perhaps unresolvable tension today between wanting to honor our history and traditions and wanting to pay homage to our commitment to the First Amendment's inherent prohibition against government involvement in religion.
My guess is that if someone today introduced a bill to place "In God We Trust" on our money, Congress would not pass it. I would go further and suggest that Congress should not pass such a law today. It's now clear that we live in a religiously pluralistic society in which our government has no business either promoting or denigrating religion. It should be absolutely as neutral as possible. (In truth, this should have been clear in 1776, too, though it was more difficult to see then.)
Besides, I've always contended that government support of religion weakens religion. As a Christian, for instance, I don't want governments to display nativity scenes on courthouse lawns next to Santa and Frosty the Snowman. That devalues a sacred symbol.
So would I remove "In God We Trust" from our coins? If it were up to me alone, yes. But I'm not at all sure it's worth the inevitable political fight and radically uncivil discourse such a move would be likely to produce at this contentious moment in our society. Rather, I think it might be worth trying to create a public discussion about it (without the threat of immediate legislation) to see if we might come to some societal consensus first.
What would you do?
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AN ANGELIC LETDOWN?
The pope jokes that his "guardian angel" did not prevent him from falling and breaking his wrist recently. His words do raise these questions: Do you have a guardian angel? Do you believe they exist? Any experience with one? Do they work 8-hour shifts? Other than to acknowledge that with God all things are possible, I have neither experience with guardian angels nor any opinions about them.
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P.S.: You can follow me now on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BillTammeus.