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Austin Cline

Weekly Poll: In God We Trust as the American Motto, On American Money

By September 12, 2013

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The American motto, which appears on American money and other government contexts, is "In God We Trust." This isn't just a generic "god," but a particular conception of god as a personal agent who can be trusted to help us. Christians immediately perceive the motto as referring to their god and not to other gods, like Zeus or Krishna, not only because it describes how they see their god but also because they know that the motto was written by and for Christians. Is it legitimate for the government to favor one god over all other possible gods?

The existence of this phrase is regularly used by fundamentalists in an effort to have the government promote their religious beliefs -- completely ignoring the irony of such a religious phrase appearing on money. It's actually a bit disappointing that none seem to recognize that there might be a conflict between combining the materialism of money with their belief in a transcendent deity.

In 1999, for example, an Indiana school wanted to post "eleven precepts," little more than a rewriting of the Ten Commandments which included the extra command "Trust in God." Supporters argued that this was a secular precept because the phrase "In God We Trust" appears on currency. For some reason, it escaped their notice that commanding people's children to trust in a god -- any god, not just their god -- simply is not the job of the state. Not only is this a misuse of government power, but it is an insult to religion to try and claim that trusting in their God is a secular rather than a religious issue.

That this motto is an attempt to enforce a particular idea of God in American society has even been admitted by those who have not been careful with their words. Stephen Hartkop, one-time executive director of the Christian Coalition of Ohio, said that "For them to try to remove these words [from the currency] is nothing other than an attempt to try to basically remove God from society, and I really don't think the people of this country want that." Isn't it curious that a Christian would believe that unless the government actively supported and encouraged belief in their god, then that belief would disappear?

Comments
April 16, 2009 at 10:57 am
(1) MikeC says:

“In God We Trust” wasn’t the American motto until an act of congress in 1956 – similar to the addition of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, it was most likely added as a result of McCarthyism.

“The coin motto was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment [that] existing during the Civil War.”

“The use of IN GOD WE TRUST has not been uninterrupted. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938. Since 1938, all United States coins bear the inscription. Later, the motto was found missing from the new design of the double-eagle gold coin and the eagle gold coin shortly after they appeared in 1907. In response to a general demand, Congress ordered it restored, and the Act of May 18, 1908, made it mandatory on all coins upon which it had previously appeared. IN GOD WE TRUST was not mandatory on the one-cent coin and five-cent coin. It could be placed on them by the Secretary or the Mint Director with the Secretary’s approval. The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916.”

Reference:http://www.ustreas.gov/education/fact-sheets/currency/in-god-we-trust.shtml

April 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm
(2) Andrew says:

Sure it should come off our money, but there are bigger fish to fry.

April 17, 2009 at 2:27 pm
(3) NKHart says:

Is it illegal to take a green-ink pen and add an “S” to God, making it Gods?

April 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm
(4) Adrift in Paradise says:

I just see “In god we trust” as a tribute to the money god too many idolize and serve.

April 17, 2009 at 3:33 pm
(5) Drew says:

As a Canadian, when I sing my national anthem I turn “God keep our land” into “We keep our land”, and make sure I say it loudly. This line was only added in the 1970s under the Trudeau Liberals. Those four words replaced one of the many “Oh Canada”s in the anthem, so I think the motivation was honestly to reduce redundancy; but I hope to see the day when we can change it to something else.

April 17, 2009 at 5:49 pm
(6) Marc says:

I’d like to know how so many votes in the poll were by obvious theists? Do they have nothing better to do than troll atheists blogs?
Andrew: I agree on a certain level concerning the “fish fry”, however, you’ve heard the adage about “giving an inch”? Every little bit of erosion or invasion counts!

November 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm
(7) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

Hey! Mark,

I thought Andrew was talking about frying the the “Jesus” Fish!

Remember what that famous American Essayist and Poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson Said,

“We must get rid of that Christ, we must get rid of that Christ!”

– from John E Remsberg, The Christ (1909)

Grandpa

April 17, 2009 at 8:00 pm
(8) James Jackson says:

Madalyn Murray (O’Hair)sued and the phrase was actually removed from money for a spell back in the 1950s or early 1960s. Can someone explain how that odious phrase returned to our money? How is its use rationalized by the government today?

April 17, 2009 at 9:17 pm
(9) Zayla says:

I agree with everything MickC and Andrew commented on. As a strict separations I would like to see every reference to god removed from money, courts, schools, etc., EVERYWHERE that is public and has public money involved.

As MikeC mentioned there is the misconception that these are long standing traditions and many of them were instituted in the 1950 and later.

God has NO PLACE in anyplace where public funds are involved. I realize this is an affront to christians and they think their rights are being infringed on, but the truth is it is the other way around and has been for many, many years.

There are too many faiths, beliefs, non-beliefs in this country for any “god” to be recognized by the publics dollar.

The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the minorities, not the majority.

There is more than enough room to worship and celebrate religion and god. There are churches on every corner and everyone in this great country is free to worship as they feel free, in their homes.

They are also free to worship in public and in schools, another misconception. They just can’t have the public footing the bill and sponsoring it.

Students, sports teams, etc. are more than free and even encouraged to pray, on THEIR OWN. Anyone in this country can sit in a park and read whatever religious book they want, they can put up whatever religious symbols on their property, bumper stickers, tee shirts, the list is endless.

Do you know how few countries you can do that in? Why does everyone, mostly christians, insist that we all have to have their beliefs, symbols and traditions part of OUR daily lives, paid for by all of us?

It is an infringement on us, not the majority.

Try to understand, we are not trying to “take away god, or religion, just make it right for everyone regardless of the belief. That’s what’s great about this country. That’s what I try to teach my kids that they are FREE. I want that lesson to mean something.

April 17, 2009 at 11:23 pm
(10) John Hanks says:

The comment on a coin is a perfect example of a graven image and it is idolatry as well. On this point, I would give the victory to the worshippers of the Babylonian skygod.

April 19, 2009 at 4:00 am
(11) Andrew says:

Marc: Obviously if I had a say in the decision it would come off but I find the pledge far more troubling.

April 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm
(12) Tim G. says:

I chose “don’t know/don’t care”, but really I agree with Andrew. I don’t like it, but there are bigger fish to fry.

I also would encourage theists to engage us here at Austin’s blog. I would not accuse them of “trolling”. There are certain web-sites that are clearly written by atheists, for atheists, but I think this blog functions well as an outreach to anyone who is interested in learning more about the atheist point of view….

April 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm
(13) Louise says:

I thoroghly agree with all the comments by Zayla, especially the part that mentions how
Christians feel their rights are being infringed, although in reality, it’s everyone else’s rights that are being infringed by using public money to celebrate “traditional” Christian beliefs and holidays. I can’t help but remember a comment some years ago that was made by a Jewish co-worker; ” Frankly I really get tired of hearing Christmas songs all month.” (referring to December). At the time I still considered myself a Christian, and really hadn’t thought how much celebrating Christian holidays imposed on other people. For the last several years, though, since I realized I was truly an athiest, I can definitely understand her comment.

April 26, 2009 at 7:37 am
(14) Ibukun says:

In these times of economic crisis, might now be a time for us to actually turn to God (and I’m not saying the God I know and believe in, but to the God we each believe in), and pray for His healing upon our lands. We’ve trusted in ‘man’ for so long i.e. bankers, presidents, solicitors, the lot, and they’ve all failed us miserably, at least trusting ‘God’ (whichever God you believe in) gives me a whole load more comfort than any other alternative.

April 26, 2009 at 8:48 am
(15) Austin Cline says:

In these times of economic crisis, might now be a time for us to actually turn to God (and I’m not saying the God I know and believe in, but to the God we each believe in), and pray for His healing upon our lands.  

People have always done that. Look at how much good it has done.

We’ve trusted in ‘man’ for so long i.e. bankers, presidents, solicitors, the lot, and they’ve all failed us miserably,

Indeed. I’m sure you don’t trust in doctors when you are sick or plumber when the pipes burst, right?

at least trusting ‘God’ (whichever God you believe in) gives me a whole load more comfort than any other alternative.

And that’s what is most important to you, right? All you’re looking for is something that comforts, not investing time and effort into evaluating what is most likely real, reasonable, or true?

April 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm
(16) seniorskeptic says:

As my little act of rebellion, I use a black marker to oblitterate god from my dollar bills.Don’t know if it’s illegal but let them catch me if they can.

May 5, 2009 at 5:05 pm
(17) MrMarkAZ says:

Ibukun,

In these times of economic crisis, might now be a time for us to actually turn to … the God we each believe in …

What part of a-theist (not a theist, not believing in gods) did you fail to understand?

May 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm
(18) Tom Edgar says:

In Australia the only God we have on our currency is the Foreigner Queen Elizabeth.

Our National Anthem is unique in the world.
Doesn’t beat to a martial air. Doesn’t bray about superiority over anyone nor mentions Gods of any kind. Just seems to say come on over and put another steak on the barbecue.

The “In God we trust.” is just another extension of the American obsession with daily the indoctrination of racial, religious and nationalistic superiority. Continual reinforcement of any point of view is necessary when built on shaky foundations.
All religions are continued by this method as are the various forms of political systems, from the American false idea of “Democracy” to the U.Ks Monarchy or North Korea’s Autocracy.

May 5, 2009 at 8:10 pm
(19) Marc says:

Tim G.: I don’t know how much you follow the blog, but I have only seen one visiting theist yet who actually wanted intellectual engagement. All I have seen is attempts to proselytize, along with the ever annoying and condescending “god bless you” or “I’ll pray for you” comment. I agree wholeheartedly that it would be great if, as you say, “they were interested in learning”!

May 6, 2009 at 1:05 am
(20) Karleigh says:

@Tom Edgar: Yeah, I don’t even like Elizabeth being on our currency…it seems so pointless; what have monarchs living in their cushy palaces ever done for us? I believe Brits are taught to love and revere the royal family? Has anyone ever stopped and wondered why? I don’t believe in reigning monarchs at all, or that anyone has superior blood to anyone else. It’s just nonsense.

…and really off-topic! Sorry, lol.

May 6, 2009 at 4:21 am
(21) Tom Edgar says:

Karleigh

It really isn’t off topic. The Monarchy, and for that matter the position of the “Presidential Office” in the U S A, is a quasi religious position, tantamount to deification. Both these positions, and that of many Monarchs around the world are seen as being sacrosanct. It is just an extension of the theistic attitude to non existent deities
to justify the veneration for the office bearer on earth. Viz The Pope. In Thailand it is a criminal offence to place a coin of the realm “King’s Face down.” There are other such examples. Until this enslaved mind set,instilled from birth, is terminated there will be no emancipation from religion. Unfortunately I can’t see it happening.

As fir the English being taught to love and revere. Yes it happens but not with total success. Britain has an even larger proportion of “Republicans” than Australia.

In the district from whence I came. (S E London) King George V and Mary were pelted with rotten tomatoes in the thirties and never came near the place again. I know! My father was one of the assailants.Their aim was better than the shoe thrower at GWB in Iraq. Pity.

May 7, 2009 at 10:42 pm
(22) Doug Shaver says:

“As my little act of rebellion, I use a black marker to oblitterate god from my dollar bills.Don’t know if it’s illegal but let them catch me if they can.”

Defacement per se is not illegal. It depends on how you do it.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casecode/uscodes/18/parts/i/chapters/17/sections/section_333.html

June 2, 2009 at 7:07 pm
(23) Don says:

I would like to say to all those who would like to have the word “GOD’ stripped from any and all items, pledges, and the like in the USA.
I for one believe in God and find those who claim seperation of church and state offensive, does that mean I have the right to have you deported?
Our country was founded by very Christian men and women, who were God fearing people.
Whats next removal of our Flag in any place someone finds it to be offensive?
Next will be wearing a cross, or holding a bible.
I say if you don’t like any part of “God”, move to China, or some other place where “God” is forbidden.
Then when your rights are trampled upon, and your life is in danger, drop to your knees and pray that God will forgive you.

Amen

November 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm
(24) dave y. says:

I have to tell you Don, you need some education on who the christians were back i them days!
the Majority of the Founding Fathers were NOT churchies Don, you should look up the jefferson Bible and actually read some of it, as Jefferson was Deist, not Christian!
the Puritans had NOTHING to do with forming our Nation, the grand majority of them moved to Nova Scotia after the revolution because they bowed to the King of England and considered the revolution un- christian!

June 2, 2009 at 7:24 pm
(25) Don says:

I thoroghly agree with all the comments by Zayla, especially the part that mentions how
Christians feel their rights are being infringed, although in reality, it’s everyone else’s rights that are being infringed by using public money to celebrate “traditional” Christian beliefs and holidays.

If in fact you believe that we as Christian are causing you an injustice I suggest that every Christmas you work, forgo the Bonus, the tree, the presents to your kids.
Every holiday that is Christian in nature, that you freely work when all others have it off, I mean it does not mean anything to you in anyway so why have it off?
Lets say you have off every Febuary 29th sound good?
Our country was founded on Christian ideas by Christian men, I think that all of you should be thankful that because of them you have the right to object and not fear death as a result.

June 2, 2009 at 8:22 pm
(26) Austin Cline says:

I for one believe in God and find those who claim seperation of church and state offensive, does that mean I have the right to have you deported?

Sorry, I don’t see the analogy.

Our country was founded by very Christian men and women, who were God fearing people.

And they created a secular government.

Whats next removal of our Flag in any place someone finds it to be offensive?

Offensiveness isn’t the problem.

I say if you don’t like any part of “God”, move to China, or some other place where “God” is forbidden.

I could just as easily tell you that you if you want “God” on everything, move to Saudi Arabia which already has in place the theocracy you desire.

Then when your rights are trampled upon, and your life is in danger, drop to your knees and pray that God will forgive you.

That’s what we’re fighting against by defending secular government.

June 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm
(27) Sarnia Skeptic says:

Don, Don, Don,
You should do some homework before you let more people see how ignorant you really are.

Christmas is a STOLEN holiday – just as most of the other traditions of the Xtian religion.

The USA was not founded on Xtian principles and many of the greatest changes in the history of the USA have come in spite of religion (suffrage, abolition of slavery, etc.).

Your god almost certainly does not exist – grow up.

June 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm
(28) Paulito says:

“Our country was founded on Christian ideas by Christian men” – and it was previously a colony of a Christian Empire…it was also a Christian idea of Christian men that the monarch was chosen by god.
Just goes to show that the Christian concept of government isn’t necessarily democratic.

“If in fact you believe that we as Christian are causing you an injustice I suggest that every Christmas you work, forgo the Bonus, the tree, the presents to your kids.”
What exactly is Christian about the tree? Feel free to show me where that comes from the bible.

June 5, 2009 at 4:19 pm
(29) Chippolus says:

Don… The Founders of the country were very careful to word PROTECTIONS from religion in the constitution, knowing its destructive nature. The calming effect it has on the privileged passes the cost on down. Men of intelligence had to survive, and in a land of religious hooliganism. It was easier than when christians were killing anyone with different opinions (common sense) but nobody can make your life hell like a bunch of zealots whose magic fairy you disregard.
Sarnia… they stole the god, the holidays, the fairy tales… but they killed the previous owners, so it all belongs to the christians now… Hey wait… since christ started out as the Sun before he morphed into the Son… do they own the sun too?

June 5, 2009 at 4:43 pm
(30) Chippolus says:

Don has the typical short christian memory.

(I suggest that every Christmas you work, forgo the Bonus, the tree, the presents to your kids.)
The pagan practise of the tree on December 25 to celebrate birth of the Sun god (later became son of god) had been going on way back to pre-history. I suggest if you want to get into your god’s good graces stop pirating our pagan practices.

(Lets say you have off every Febuary 29th sound good?) Well it does sound like christian generosity.

(you have the right to object and not fear death as a result.)Not as any result of christian teaching. Diplomacy and consideration are alien to the spoiled child whom your bell toils. For the last 1600 years since christianity was pounded into the world by the arabic death cultists who spawned it, people have suffered and died because of an imaginary angry jealous deathmonger. All comforts enjoyed today are from humans maturing above that standard. Find the passage in the bible where god wants peace and well being, and I’ll show you 2 where god wants blood and death.

June 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm
(31) DamnRight says:

Hey “Sarnia Skeptic”… how do I go about contacting you?… name is Greg… I grew up in Sarnia (now live in Florida 13 yrs)… most of my family (Seller) is still there… I am in my mid-fifties & have only been atheist for a few years… grew up at “Devine Street Gospel Chapel”… eventually moved to the “Missionary Church” around the corner… lots of history… I’m sure most Sarnians don’t know I’ve “seen the light”… friend in Kitchener started me on the road to investigation & discovery when he visited me her in FL… a good study of the bible & its history was all it took… wife is still an evangelical christian… have learned to deal with that… wish we could meet / speak / email…

June 6, 2009 at 8:44 am
(32) Michael Rudas says:

I use a green inkpen to cross out the word GOD on every paper bill that passes through my hands–doing this is not illegal, since it does not alter the bill’s value nor prevent it from being used for its intended purpose. There may be “bigger fish to fry”–but I can fry this one on my own, thank you. I think it’s worth it.

August 18, 2009 at 1:14 pm
(33) Sarnia Skeptic says:

DamnRight – you can check out my blog or email me at skeptic@sarnia.com .

October 14, 2009 at 4:34 pm
(34) Chris says:

In the name of pluralism we are slowly disrobing our nation from its identity and its soul. Today remove in God we trust, tomorrow change the national anthem and after that change the flag and call the nation a different name.
Of course many of your are now rethinking this notion of removing in God we trust because it is exactly the same as the points I made. If you do not see any problem with any of them then you have no love or respect for this nation. If you were born here then I’d say you are a sold out to whatever believes you have that you live by (probably a selfish self centered one) you all call for unity but are the first one to create dissension and differences and if you weren’t born here I’d say you have no respect for the nation that probably gave you a better existence than where you came from.
As an American of foreign decent I am proud of our flag, our national anthem and proud to be an American citizen of a great nation called the United States of America which i know if blessed by GOD!

November 7, 2011 at 10:08 pm
(35) dave y. says:

I understand you don’t get this Chris, but faith in god has nothing to do with being an american!
My family started on this Continent during the time of the dutch sttlements, as in New Amsterdam!
Your GOOD christians didnt care about freedom, thats why the founding fathers were deist, not christian.
as I told Don before, the Purtans had nothing to do with our Indepndence form England, they ran to Nova Scotia when the English lost the war where they could continue to worship the King of England!

The fact that Christians have never cared about freedom is why the Christians feel threatened, they can only find comfort in being enslaved, as they are very busy proving at this time by wanting to give up their liberties so they can force their religion on others!

October 28, 2011 at 11:37 am
(36) kaye foreman says:

I don’t understand atheism. I do understand a little christianity. I think alot of christians think y’all guys want us to allow muslims to have their right for religious freedom while preventing our freedoms. I’m not trying to start anything or being angry. Both my sons are atheist. It saddens me but we raised them to experience all and this is how they chose. Christians just want majority rules and don’t get why we don’t. Why do y’all think majority doesn’t rule? Please don’t read this as a hostile tone. I sincerely don’t mean it that way.

October 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm
(37) Austin Cline says:

I don’t understand atheism.

What’s not to understand? Anyone lacking a belief in the existence of any gods is an atheist. That’s it – no more, no less.

Both my sons are atheist.

So why haven’t you tried to understand it?

It saddens me but we raised them to experience all and this is how they chose.

You’re sad that your sons aren’t exactly like you?

Christians just want majority rules and don’t get why we don’t.

It’s easy to want “majority rules” when you think you’re the majority. But everyone is a minority in some respect.

There are clear limits on the power of majorities to protect the rights and equality of minorities. Don’t you approve of this? Or do you think that majorities should have the power to deprive minorities of their rights?

Why do y’all think majority doesn’t rule?

Because the rights and equality of minorities needs to be protected. So there are limits on what a majority can do. For example, a majority of whites cannot vote to have the government declare that America is a “white nation.” Don’t you think that this limitation is good?

November 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm
(38) Michael Rudas says:

Actually, there is an explicitely religious reason for not putting “In God We Trust” on money—or anywhere else, for that matter.

Most Othodox Jews and several Christian sects believe that to speak or write the name “God” or its equivalents is blasphemy. That’s why you sometimes see it written as G-d or Y-H. By putting “In God We Trust” on money, the government is saying, “Our religion is different than your religion,” meaning that it clearly violates the First Amendment.

September 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm
(39) Marvin says:

Since the article has a current date but the comments begin over four years ago, I’m not sure whether anyone is aware that many, if not a majority, of Indiana licence plates carry the “In God we trust” motto. Since I drive I-94 through a corner of Indiana several times a year, I see these plates often, and I must say they trouble me.

As a recovering fundamentalist who doubled his tithes in spite of hungry children at home, and once went so far as to attempt to mortgage his house for “the church,” I hate to see other people sucked into the depths of stupidity that I once was. My “loss of faith” grew from the fact that I actually studied the Bible and found it to be much less than claimed.

Too many people still allow preachers to do the studying for them. Unless all the “In God we trust” plates I see belong to preachers who have a vested interest in not thinking, too many people are as trapped as I was.

October 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm
(40) Jeanne says:

Whenever this subject comes up, many people will claim that we need to turn to god and that acknowledging god is a positive thing. I fully respect the right of people to believe that. However, the real issue is whether or not such beliefs should be a government mandate. Is it within the scope of government authority to declare that any gods exist, let alone that we trust in any gods or that we are under any gods?

Whether something is good or bad that the government wishes to do should not be the first question people ask. The very first question people should ask is, “Is this something the government should be involved in?” Our constitution was purposely written to limit government authority so we should be very concerned if the government wishes to overstep it’s bounds and become involved in areas best left to individual citizens, regardless of whether we think that what the government proposes is a great idea.

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