Wednesday, December 5, 2012



History of Motto "In God We Trust"

and "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance

By Ralph C. Reynolds, former President, Rochester Chapter,

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

(Written about the year 2000 or before.)

Before the days of credit and debit cards, one used to see signs

similar to the one above in diners, service stations, food stores, and

many other establishments, obviously playing on the use of the motto "In

God We Trust" that is on our coins and paper currency. It may come as a

surprise to many younger and even not so young persons that this was not

always so, that the regular use of "In God We Trust" on US coins did not

begin until 1908, "In God We Trust" was not made an official motto of the

United States until 1956, and the motto did not appear on paper money

until 1957. The history of the choice of "In God We Trust" as an

official motto of the United States and the practice of placing "In God

We Trust" on coins and bills is a tale of historical revisionism, perfidy

by our elected representatives and appointed officials, and

ecclesiastical opportunism whose results have tended to eat away at the

foundations of our liberties and threaten the very idea of the separation

of church and state.

In contrast to the Declaration of Independence, and quite

deliberately, the Constitution of the United States contains not a single

reference to a deity or to divine inspiration. This was, of course, due

to the genius of the founding fathers who saw in Europe and elsewhere the

strife that had been engendered by the adoption of official religions in

nearly all Old World countries. Yet we frequently see in letters to the

editor and elsewhere the claim that the US was created and remains a

Christian nation. I have had several e-mail notes from evangelicals and

fundamentalists who have maintained the same thing. When pressed as to

where this idea comes from, they point to the words "In God We Trust" on

all our money and the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to

the Flag. Well, how did this come about? How did the clearly

unconstitutional words "In God We Trust" and "under God" come to appear

on our money and in our Pledge of Allegiance?

In the early years of our country, around 1800, when church

affiliation was perhaps 10% (some authorities say up to 17-20%) of the

population, the motto on our coins, then the major medium of exchange,

was often just "LIBERTY." In 1776, Congress appointed John Adams,

Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to design a Great Seal for the

fledgling country. The motto they adopted for the Great Seal was E

Pluribus Unum, meaning "from many, one" or "one unity composed of many

parts." Although the design was rejected, the motto was adopted by the

designers of the Great Seal approved by Congress in 1782. The motto was

first used on coins of the United States mint in 1795, and both legends,

that is, LIBERTY and E Pluribus Unum, were used somewhat regularly on

coins throughout the nineteenth century.

By 1860 the proportion of church-related persons in the United

States had slowly doubled or tripled to about 40% of the population, and

during and following the Civil War, there was a burgeoning of religious

fanaticism in America that built on a general feeling fed by the clergy

that the Civil War was God's punishment for omitting His name from the

Constitution. In 1863, eleven Protestant denominations banded together

to petition the Congress to correct the oversight by the founders and

"reform" the Constitution to indicate that the United States was created

as and remained a Christian nation. Thus, the so-called National Reform

Association submitted the following additions to the preamble:

We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging almighty God as

the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus

Christ as the ruler among nations, his revealed will as the supreme law

of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government, and in order

to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic

tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare,

and secure the inalienable rights and the blessings of life, liberty, and

the pursuit of happiness to ourselves, our posterity, and all the people,

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of


The Christian amendment never gained the approval of the Congress or

of any of the states. When introduced again in 1874 it never got out of

committee. In its heyday, however, in the early 1860s, the NRA (not the

gun people) had as members many prominent men including a Supreme Court

Justice, William Strong, and two ex-governors of Pennsylvania, J.W. Geary

and James Pollock. The stated and well-known goal of the NRA was the

creation of a Christian theocracy in the United States. Although they

were singularly unsuccessful in their primary goal of amending the

preamble, the organization lasted through the first half of the twentieth

century and apparently still had registered lobbyists in the late 1950s.

Our story now takes another tack as President Lincoln had in 1861

fortuitously appointed the religious zealot and NRA member James Pollock

as Director of the Mint. In November 1861, a certain Rev. Mark Richard

Watkinson, pastor of a Baptist church in Delaware County, Pennsylvania,

wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase pointing out

that the lack of "recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our

coins" was a serious oversight by those responsible for the nation's

coinage. The good pastor recommended that the Goddess of Liberty be

replaced by a specified arrangement of 13 stars, the words "perpetual

union," the all-seeing eye crowned with a halo, and a flag with the words

"God, liberty, law" written within the folds of the bars. "This," said

the parson, "would make a beautiful coin to which no possible citizen

could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism.

This would place us openly under the divine protection we have personally


Obviously moved by these eloquent words, Secretary Chase wrote a

letter to his Director of the Mint, James Pollock: Dear Sir: No nation

can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in his

defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our

national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without

unnecessary delay with a motto expressing...this national recognition.

Pollock leapt at this chance and in 1863 submitted several designs

to Chase that incorporated variations of the mottos "Our Trust is in God"

and "God and Our Country." Shortly after the designs were submitted in

December 1863, Secretary Chase notified Pollock that the mottos were

approved but suggested that they should be modified to place "Our God and

Our Country" on one coin and "In God We Trust" on another. In 1864

Congress agreed to this proposal by passing a law that contained the

words, "...and the shape, mottoes, and devices of said coins shall be

fixed by the director of the mint, with the approval of the Secretary of

the Treasury." Thus, unable to convert the nation into a theocracy by

legal means, the avowed supporter of Christian theocracy was given

another chance and succeeded in his goal of subverting the Constitution.

The nation now officially recognized God as its protector through the

agency of the United States mint.

Things were pretty quiet for about 40 years as the government

solidified the nation's position as a de facto Protestant theocracy.

Church affiliation is reported to have risen to well over 40% of the

population in the latter half of the century. Protestants dominated the

positions of power in both the government and the private sector.

Now the coinage act of 1864 did not specify the wording to be placed

on the coins, and this fact opened the door to further mischief as the

act provided that the Secretary of the Treasury, acting on the advice of

the Director of the Mint, could change the wording at any time.

President Theodore Roosevelt, whose term of office started in 1901, was a

staunch admirer of the sculptor Saint-Gaudens, and he persuaded Treasury

Secretary Shaw to commission Saint-Gaudens to provide new designs for the

nations coinage. Saint-Gaudens, however, disapproved of the use of "In

God We Trust" on coins for aesthetic reasons, and it turned out that

Theodore Roosevelt. also disapproved of the motto "In God We Trust" on

coins, but for religious reasons, not aesthetic ones. Roosevelt thought

that having the "In God We Trust" motto on common coins that were abused

in all sorts of manners was close to sacrilege.

When these views attacking the use of the inscription "In God We

Trust" were made public, there was a huge public outcry, and the White

House and members of Congress were deluged with protests and petitions

from the religious sectors demanding the restoration of "In God We Trust"

to the coinage. Quickly caving in to the public outcry, Roosevelt

notified the House and Senate leadership that he would not veto a bill

specifying that "In God We Trust" be inscribed on all coins if it passed

both houses. A bill was indeed passed by the House in March and by the

Senate in May of 1908; the bill became Public Law No. 120 when signed by

Roosevelt on May 18, 1908. The law said in part, "Be it enacted by the

Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America

in Congress assembled, that the motto 'In God We Trust,' heretofore

inscribed on certain denominations of gold and silver coins of the United

States of America, shall hereafter be inscribed on all such gold and

silver coins of said denominations as heretofore."

The extension of the use of the "In God We Trust" motto to paper

money came about as paper currency more and more assumed the status of

the principal medium of exchange in the country. As the country had

experienced over 40 years of exposure to the motto on our coins without

serious protest, in the late 1940s some religionists thought it was about

time that the motto was placed on our paper currency to thank the Lord

for preserving us through the terrible war that had just ended [ignoring

the fact that the German army had the motto "Gott mit Uns" (God with us)

inscribed on their belt buckles]. In 1953, one Matthew R. Rothert of

Arkansas, president of the Arkansas Numismatic Society, presented the

idea of putting "In God We Trust" on all paper money to a meeting of his

group. The favorable reaction by his audience prompted him to send a

written proposal for such a change to Treasury Secretary Humphrey, but he

also sent copies of the correspondence to Commerce Secretary Weeks and to

President Eisenhower. This single letter prompted the Eisenhower

administration in June 1955 to recommend to Congress a bill (H.R. 619)

that would "[provide] for the inscription of 'In God We Trust' on all

United States currency and coins." Introduced into the House, a

representative from Florida characterized the object of the bill as,

" these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to

attack and destroy freedom,..." a way to "...strengthen the foundations

of our freedom. At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the

desire of Americans to live by His will and His guidance. As long as

this country trusts in God, it will prevail. To serve as a constant

reminder of this truth, it is highly desirable that our currency and

coins should bear these inspiring words 'In God We Trust.'"

Introduced amidst the Cold War hysteria of the 1950s, this bill was

rapidly approved by the House and shortly thereafter by the Senate with

little debate. The words "In God We Trust" have appeared on all United

States currency issued after October 1, 1957.

Emboldened by the rapidity with which the Congress embraced the use

of the "In God We Trust" motto on paper money, Congressional forces still

energized by rampant McCarthyism and anti-Communism thought it the

opportune time to make the "In God We Trust" motto the "national motto."

Introduced on March 22, 1956, H.R. Res. 396 was quickly approved and

signed into law on July 30, 1956 (36 U.S.C. Section 186), thus completing

the campaign of the religionists to instill the Christian nation idea

into the consciousness of all Americans through the agency of a few

individuals who found a way to circumvent the normal safeguards of

liberty enshrined in the United States Constitution.

Challenges to the "In God We Trust" Motto

The use of "In God We Trust" as the motto on our paper currency and

coins has been subject to legal challenges in the courts. In the first

such case, Aronow v. United States (1970), the United States Court of

Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that, "It is quite obvious that the

national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency, 'In God We

Trust'--, has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of

religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no

true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."

A second challenge, Madalyn Murray O'Hair v. W. Michael Blumenthal,

Secretary of the Treasury, et al. (1978) was heard in the United States

District Court, Western District of Texas. The court opined that, based

on the above ruling by the Ninth Circuit court, "From this it is easy to

deduce that the Court concluded that the primary purpose of the slogan

was secular; it served a secular ceremonial purpose in the obviously

secular function of providing a medium of exchange." Several other court

cases were also unsuccessful despite the plaintiffs assertion that the

motto was clearly of a religious nature in making a statement about God

and encouraging belief in that God. Americans ask piety in presidents,

not displays of religious preference. New York Times editorial, Jan. 31,


Does the Motto Pass the Lemon Test?

The three-pronged Lemon test for constitutionality under the First

Amendment was delineated in the majority opinion written by Chief Justice

Warren Burger in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) as "First, the statute must

have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary

effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally,

the statute must not 'foster an excessive government entanglement with

religion.'" This view was affirmed in, for example, Committee for Public

Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist (413 U.S. 756, 1973), which

declared New York parochial school aid unconstitutional. Recently.

several court observers have questioned the usefulness of the Lemon test,

and although it has not been formally overruled, many recent

establishment clause cases have been decided without referring to it.

Nevertheless, it is the opinion of many observers that the laws

specifying the national motto and providing for the placement of the

motto on currency and coins of the United States clearly fail all three

parts of the Lemon test.


I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to) the Republic for which it

stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

This pledge was issued by the executive committee at the dedication

of the World's Fair Grounds in Chicago, IL, on October 21, 1892;

subsequent research suggested that it was written by the Committee

chairman, Francis Bellamy (United States Flag Association, 1939).

Originally consisting of 22 words, the word "to" was added immediately

after the first celebration. The pledge was first revised at the First

National Flag Conference in 1923 when the words "the Flag of the United

States" were substituted for "my Flag," and the words "of America" were

added to that phrase at the Second National Flag Conference in 1924. (We

might note in passing that the United States is the only country in the

world that pledges allegiance to a flag!) The pledge of allegiance did

not, however, become the official Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag until

Public Law 79-287 was signed on December 28, 1941 by President F.D.

Roosevelt to prepare it for service in the war effort.

Nevertheless, the Pledge of Allegiance remained thoroughly secular,

as demanded by the Constitution, for 62 years. Then, in the early 1950s,

as with the national motto, a group of religionists used the concerns of

the cold war against "Godless" communism to remedy the lack of foresight

of the writer of the pledge in omitting any reference to Christianity or,

the next best thing, to God. But this time it was a Roman Catholic

organization that got the ball rolling when the Knights of Columbus began

a campaign that would alter the fundamental relationship of our national

government to the governed that had existed for 178 years.

The Knights of Columbus had apparently in 1951 instituted their own

version of the Pledge of Allegiance for use at their meetings that

contained the words "under God." Seeing that the time was right, they

enlisted the cooperation of the American Legion in lobbying the Executive

branch and the Congress to add "under God" to the pledge. Ignoring the

Constitution and caving in to the expediency of the moment, President

Eisenhower expressed support for the measure, and it was passed on Flag

Day, June 14, 1954.

This was a major expansion of the religious province of government

officials; what had previously been expressions of personal piety, as in

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, were now

transmogrified into the first religious test instituted for citizens of

this nation. Clearly the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of

Allegiance is an "establishment of religion" and thus is clearly



This brief history of the paths by which the national motto, "In God

We Trust", was born and caused to be placed on our paper currency and

coins and the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance

demonstrates that these actions were never approved by the mass of the

American people but were the result of opportunistic actions of, by and

large, two religious fanatics acting 90 years apart. But James Pollock

and Matthew Rothert could only accomplish these acts with the inadvertent

help of Theodore Roosevelt and the acquiescence of many government

officials and elected representatives who forgot that they were charged

with upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States. What

can be done about this situation? For the present, perhaps, nothing, but

we can still correct the false ideas that many persons hold that "In God

We Trust" has "been on our money since year 1" and that the presence of

the motto indicates that we are a Christian nation and thus the mass of

us should accommodate Christians when they seek to override the

Constitution. Then perhaps someday we can restore the proper motto for

our diverse nation, E Pluribus Unum, to its rightful place as emblematic

of American democracy.

It has been pointed out by some ecclesiastics that the motto "In God

We Trust" does not mention Christ or Christianity, but indeed, includes

over 90% of the population that believes, according to recent surveys, in

"God," whether they are Christians or not. This appears to be mere

dissimulation; the phrase "In God We Trust" has never been used by Jews

or Muslims or any other faith that is based on the monotheistic God of

the Jews except Christianity. The phrase "In God We Trust" does not

appear in the Bible. Although there are many passages in the "Old

Testament" that refer to placing one's trust in the Lord, the New

Testament contains only two passages that, in the Authorized (King James)

version, refer to trusting in God, namely, 1 Timothy 4:10 ("For therefore

trust in the living God,...") and 2 Corinthians 1:9 ("...we should not

trust in ourselves, but in God...."). Although these passages have been

quoted by Bible believers as precedent for the use of "In God We Trust"

as a national motto and on our currency and coins, the word "trust" does

not appear in these passages in other translations of the Bible such as

the Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible. Thus, this

contention presupposes, of course, that the King James version is the

only acceptable translation of the Bible and that all Americans must

accept the Bible as the inerrant "word of God."

POSTSCRIPT by Charles Sumner:

An element of the American religious community has always through our

history been intolerant of the beliefs of others. When Article VI was

proposed for the Constitution there was a loud outcry that this might

allow infidels, Jews, and others to hold public office. When Thomas

Paine wrote "The Age of Reason" he was (in spite of his valuable services

in the Revolution) denounced as "that filthy little atheist." When

Thomas Jefferson ran for president he was vilified because of his

deistic principles.

There are still those people today who think that they need to use the

government to further their religion. They want to coerce prayer in

school among impressionable youth, fund religious schools with tax

monies, pour billions of dollars into religious groups without adequate

controls, post the Ten Commandments in every school and courthouse, teach

the religious concept of "creationism" in science classes, and some would

like to put "In God We Trust" on the state flag.

Unless people who value our diversity and want equal rights for all take

action, we will gradually lose our religious liberty. Speak up for the principle

which made our churches strong and independent and our nation free.

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