Fair and faithful trade: 7-29-09
Family and faith: 7-31-09

In a motto we trust? 7-30-09

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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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.



Jim, it's interesting that you say it used to be mainly the men fooling around, and now there seem to be about as many women. Could Dr. Laura (who I disagree with about lots of stuff) actually be right about one thing she's said -- that when a spouse is unfaithful, women whine and men divorce. Except maybe more women are deciding "Enough whining," and they are divorcing too (I think women actually initiate divorce prodeedings more than men now).

So ... I agree with you that the added safeguards there now are to help women and children are not the direct cause -- because no woman in her right mind leaves a happy marriage to get welfare. But I think NOW, when s**t happens, women are less likely to just whine about how miserable they are, but now they've made their beds and just have to lie in them: now women are just as likely as, or more likely than, men to do something to better their situations.

The safeguards aren't frivolously wonderful -- but I know from meeting many women who've gotten out of bad situations, that there are programs in place to help newly single mothers get on their feet. These helps are not insurance against all pain and disaster, obviously, but they're at least "something," something that didn't used to be there -- i.e., my grandmother's twin sister never confided to anyone about her husband being an abusive alcoholic 'til after he was dead, then it seemed for a while like she could speak of nothing else.

My grandmother asked why she didn't tell anyone at the time so they could have helped her get away from him, and she said, "What could anyone have done: it was the Depression, I had 4 children, and nobody had room for all of us." Actually, in the Good Old Days, didn't a widowed or abandoned woman often have to divide up her children and send them off to different relatives, while she worked long hours and sent back as much as she could for their care, and went to see them as often as she could? (Continued)


(Continued) From my vantage point, I just see a whole lot of single mothers raising their children, who 100 or so years ago probably would not have been able to keep their children with them. I recall my late father reminiscing about how it used to be that when parents couldn't afford to support their children, they dropped them off at orphanages and came to get them when they were doing better. And Dad felt the orphanages did a great job of caring for large numbers of children at very low cost.

I have a feeling Dad wouldn't have spoken so fondly about the orphanages if he'd ever had to live in one! I think from a child's perspective, it's almost always preferable to live with a parent and not in an orphanage. And even more preferable would be to live with BOTH parents, so I sure hope we as a society, as well as we as individuals, can get to work at addressing the issues that are causing so many couples and families to break apart.

So, I agree with your assessment that the safeguards are not the direct cause of the increased divorce rate, and I also don't feel that easier, cheaper divorces are the direct cause. People who are happy in their marriages and having fun together don't say, "Hey, cool! A divorce is cheaper than a trip to the mountains, so let's try that this year instead of another 'boring' vacation!"

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