“In God We Trust” Reaffirmed as National Motto… Again

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November 4, 2011

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 396 to 9 to reaffirm the U.S. national motto: “In God We Trust.”

“Some public officials have stated incorrectly that there are different national mottoes. We heard the president make that mistake,” explained Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who sponsored the bill. Forbes was referring to a speech President Obama delivered in Indonesia last year in which said, “In the United States, our motto is E pluribus unum — out of many, one.” (Forbes and a number of other members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, including current presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sent a letter (PDF) to the president, taking him to task for the error.)

As The Washington Post noted, Congress has reaffirmed the motto several times in recent years:

The motto has withstood legal challenges from groups that said it violated the separation of church and state. Courts have held that the motto is “ceremonial Deism,” not an official endorsement of religion.

Still, just to be sure, Congress voted to reaffirm the motto in 2002. In essence, it passed a new law that said the old law should not be changed one bit. “Make no change in Section 302, Title 36, United States Code,” it ordered then, citing the passage that created the motto.

Then, in 2006, the Senate voted another time, to reaffirm “the concept embodied in the motto.”

Last fall in God in America, our joint production with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, we examined how “In God We Trust” came to be our national motto in 1956. At the heart of the story is an alliance between Rev. Billy Graham and Dwight Eisenhower, who together melded Christianity and patriotism into a weapon to be used against “godless Communism” during the Cold War.  The motto, explains historian Frank Lambert, “reclaims this notion that we’re a chosen people and that we were conceived under God and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.”

Watch the story in the above clip, from episode 5, “The Soul of a Nation.”  (The full series is available to view here.)

Dig Deeper: Explore a timeline of religious liberty, a profile of Billy Graham, and more on God in the White House at the God in America website.  And then test your religious literacy with the quiz we developed with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.


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