More Information About N.C. “In God We Trust” Bill

HB 965 would force school boards to display “the national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ … in at least one prominent location of each school, such as an entry way, cafeteria, or other common area.” FFRF has brought legal challenges to the phrase “In God We Trust,” both as the national motto and on currency, but the phrase has survived due to a legal fantasy that it is merely patriotic and has no religious significance (although the U.S. Supreme Court has never considered this question). Like similar bill’s around the nation, North Carolina’s HB 965 is unquestionably intended as a religious message, highlighting just how wrong courts have been on this issue.

The Supreme Court has consistently held that the government may not endorse religion in general, or particular religious messages. The authors of the Establishment Clause repeatedly urged caution regarding the government promoting religion, which was also precisely the concern that drew many early Americans to this country. The Founding Fathers understood that religious liberty requires a secular government.There is no doubt that HB 965 is intended to promote a religious message. Attempted justifications about the bill’s patriotic goals are merely a smokescreen for its true religious purpose.

This bill is part of a national fundamentalist campaign to post “In God We Trust” in every public school classroom. Congress adopted the “In God We Trust” slogan in 1956 at the behest of the Knights of Columbus, which undertook a national lobbying campaign during the height of 1950s zealotry. The original U.S. motto, chosen by a distinguished committee of Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, is the Latin E Pluribus Unum (From Many, [Come] One). A direct challenge of the religious motto has never been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, assisted by Colorado attorney Robert R. Tiernan, filed a federal lawsuit in 1994 challenging both the law adopting the religious slogan (1956), and the law requiring it to appear on all U.S. currency (1955). The Foundation lawsuit was dismissed by a 10th Circuit federal judge on the grounds that “In God We Trust” is not a religious phrase. The Foundation appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which did not take the case in 1996.

As Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says, the religious motto isn’t even accurate: “To be accurate it would have to read ‘In God Some of us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?”

Freedom From Religion Foundation