god trust money religion
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This image posted recently by Shane Wozniak on the Scientism Facebook site is a good reminder that American government has frequently adopted patently unconstitutional policies and laws, often for obvious religious reasons.

The motto “In God We Trust” first started appearing on American coinage in the dark, morally wrenching days of the Civil War, as both sides were fervently hoping the divine was on their side and forgiving them their trespasses against the other. It began appearing on paper money in 1957 during the “Red Scare,” a period of American anxiety about encroaching and insinuating God-less Communism.

In my earlier post on this topic, here (“‘In God We Trust’ on U.S. Money is Purely Political”), I referred to a 1991 Time magazine article noting that Americans in a survey explained,

“the banality of [public religious] phrases may not be worth the fight as a symbol of separating church from state. ‘Today even ardent separationists seem to agree with retired Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, who wrote in 1983 that slogans such as ‘In God We Trust’ have ‘lost any true religious significance.’”

Except that any time “God” is mentioned in any context, except perhaps metaphorically, it’s inherently religious. And “In God We Trust” on our money is the opposite of metaphorical. The problem is not that the phrase loses “true religious significance” over time; it’s that it becomes normalized to the point that it just may not seem religious to those that chronically encounter it. But it’s still intrinsically a religious, superstitious idea. Yet, there it is, year after year after year, like an incontroverible fact.

So, this stylized dollar bill above reasonably suggests a more constitutionally American slogan on our currency: “In Science & Reason We Trust.” It would also make a nifty bumper sticker in the meantime, before its adoption by Congress.

Keep in mind that the Founding Fathers — particularly Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin — likely would have been appalled to see such a phrase adorning the money of the decidedly secular republic they hoped to create.

Recall this famous quotation of Jefferson, which immortalized his contention that neither religion nor irreligion should sully America’s democratic project:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are only injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

For nonreligious Americans, having “In God We Trust” on the nation’s official money figuratively “picks our pockets” of valuable constitutional currency.


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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...