On July 30, 1956 – sixty years ago – President Eisenhower signed legislation officially making “In God We Trust” our national motto.
Prior to the passage of the law, there was no official motto for the United States. Congress noted that “In God We Trust” had already been inscribed on coins and was part of the national anthem, which showed that it had a strong claim as our national motto. However, official designation would be “of great spiritual and psychological value to our country,” according to the Senate and House of Representatives at the time.
Even though the motto was not officially adopted until 1956, it is interwoven into the fabric of this nation, from our founding documents, to our currency, to inscriptions on our government buildings. Despite the prevalence of this motto throughout our society, it is still challenged by some as being controversial and an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
So the question is, can our nation recognize the importance of faith without endorsing a particular religion?
The Declaration of Independence famously states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
Even though the motto was not officially adopted until 1956, it is interwoven into the fabric of this nation, from our founding documents, to our currency, to inscriptions on our government buildings.
Fifteen years later, the religion clauses took shape, proclaiming that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Taken collectively, our Founders recognized a Creator on one hand, while still protecting religious freedom – the freedom to believe or not – as the first freedom codified in our Constitution. In doing so, there was both a recognition of faith without showing favoritism toward one religion over another, or even religion over non-religion.
The Establishment Clause does not prohibit the government from referencing religion altogether, nor does it require that the government scrub all references of religion from the public square.
As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once wrote, “government acknowledgments of religion serve, in the only ways reasonably possible in our culture, the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society. For that reason, and because of their history and ubiquity, those practices are not understood as conveying government approval of particular religious beliefs.” (Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 693, 1984. O’Connor, J. concurring).
The separation of church and state ensures that neither entity can control the other.
America’s birth is rooted in the free exercise of religion without government coercion.
This is a part of our nation’s history that cannot be erased.
Republican Randy Forbes represents Virginia's 4th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.