The Kansas legislature is considering a bill that would require the government and schools in that state to post our national motto, “In God We Trust.” If the legislation is adopted, Kansas would join at least eight other states that require posting of the motto in schools.
Reaction from those opposed to publicly displaying our national motto was swift and predictable. The American Atheists organization claimed that posting our national motto would stigmatize religious minorities and nonbelievers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The national motto captures a quintessentially American idea. It is part of our national ethos. It is minted on our currency and has been since 1864. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law making it our official national motto in 1956.
It is often displayed on our government buildings and monuments and printed on the license plates of our cars. Careful viewers of the annual State of the Union Address will see the motto inscribed in gold letters above the speaker’s rostrum in the U.S. House of Representatives. To date, more than 600 counties and cities across the nation feature “In God We Trust” in chambers, offices, and even on police cruisers.
And this is no modern invention; the national motto reflects values long part of the American psyche. In fact, by the War of 1812, this national sentiment was so entrenched that Francis Scott Key, in penning the fourth verse of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, could write: “And this be our motto—‘In God is our trust.’”
In short, “In God We Trust” is as American as it gets.
But some activists go out of their way to be bothered by it. Rattling their sabers at Kansas legislators who proposed the bill, they impinge the motives of those who believe the motto’s display sends a message of unity. They claim that the motto represents everything from indoctrination to stigmatization.
Perhaps that is because their tired and repeatedly failed claim that the motto is unconstitutional has no foundation in the law.
Every federal appeals court to consider lawsuits involving the national motto has upheld it. The U.S. Supreme Court itself, in Lynch v. Donnelly, described the national motto as a lawful “reference to our religious heritage,” comparable to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Just last year, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging the inclusion of the national motto on our currency.
Even the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, not known for its conservative leanings, in Aronow v. United States held that the motto is “patriotic or ceremonial [in] character” and “has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion.” And, 40 years later, in Newdow v. Lefevre, the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed that holding.
Despite the claims of those who exist in a permanent state of being offended, there are few things in our country today more unifying across the cultural and legal spectrum than our national motto. During a time of confusion and division in our nation, the Kansas House is rightly seeking to provide a visible reminder of a common state and national heritage.
It’s an appropriate proposal for times such as these and the Kansas legislature should ignore the divisive rhetoric of the perpetually offended.
Roger Byron is Senior Counsel to First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.