"In God We Trust" Not Appropriate In Public Schools
(MADISON, WI) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its two Colorado chapters and its Colorado membership, has asked the Colorado State Board of Education to rescind its "ill-advised" decision of July 6 encouraging public schools to display the religious motto "In God We Trust."
The trouble-making measure passed 6-1 with the lone Democratic member, Gully Sanford, opposing the resolution as insensitive, divisive, distracting and ill-timed.
Board chair Clair Orr claimed the motto would help a nation that "has lost its way on the road to virtue and moral character."
But the Foundation called the lopsided vote "characterless." In a letter to the members of the state board, it pointed out that one of every 9 Americans--at least 24 million adults--is not affiliated with any religion.
"The words 'In God WE trust' are not only unconstitutional, they aren't even accurate!" noted Foundation president Anne Nicol Gaylor.
"Most people do not realize that 'In God We Trust' is a johnny-come-lately." For most of our history, the national motto, still on the Great Seal, has been 'E Pluribus Unum' ("From many, [come] one"), a description of American pluralism and the state/federal form of government.
"In God We Trust" was only adopted as a national motto in 1956 following the McCarthy era.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation went to federal court in 1994 challenging both acts of Congress to make "In God We Trust" a national motto (1956) and mandating its use on all U.S. coins and currency (1955). As evidence, it commissioned an independent national survey (Chamberlain Research, poll of 900 adults, May 18-23, 1994) and found 61% consider the words religious, 71% believe it endorses a belief in God, and a majority regarded the motto as preferring religion over nonreligion.
A trial court judge dismissed the lawsuit without hearing merits of the case. The Foundation appealed the dismissal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which let stand the dismissal without hearing the case.
In its letter to the Board, the Foundation wrote: "Nothing builds walls between children faster than an awareness of religious differences."
The letter quoted from one of the country's earliest decisions against religion in public schools, Weiss v. District Board (March 18, 1890), in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in ruling against bible-reading in the public schools, wrote:
"There is no such source and cause of strife, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter into our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed."
Although the Board of Education claimed the motto is "nonsectarian," attorney Robert R. Tiernan, a Foundation member who heads the Denver FFRF chapter, pointed out before their vote that the U.S. Supreme Court decision of July 19, 2000 against student-led football prayers expressly rejected that reasoning. In its 6-3 decision, the nation's highest court wrote:
". . . the school district made the related argument that its policy of endorsing only 'civic or nonsectarian' prayer was acceptable because it minimized the intrusion on the audience as a whole. We rejected that claim by explaining that such a majoritarian policy 'does not lessen the offense or isolation to the objectors. At best it narrows their number; at worst increases their sense of isolation and affront.' "
Tiernan predicted that if school districts actually erect "In God We Trust" messages in public schools, it will eventually lead to a court case that will overturn the message as a national motto.
The words "In God We Trust" were first suggested by Baptist minister Mark R. Watkinson, who suggested a coin be issued with a religious motto in 1861 to "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism." In 1864 a 2-cent piece was issued bearing the phrase. By 1938, Coin World claims, "In God We Trust" was found on all U.S. coins. However, it first appeared on some paper currency in October, 1957, following Congressional mandate. A challenge of the motto has never been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.