In God We Trust by Robert S. Wieder

The American Family Association has been campaigning for years to get our national motto, In God We Trust, posted in every public school, library, auditorium and cafeteria in the land (it's already on every coin in your pocket). So far, only Mississippi has mandated the practice, evidently in an effort to make up for Tennesee's having gotten the Scopes trial. Two years ago the U.S. House put in its two cents by passing a nonbinding resulotion calling for the motto to be displayed in public buildings. Nervous airport travellers or hospital patients may not be comforted.

The AFA's campaign has recently taken on new vigor. Laws requiring that the motto be added to school walls are in the works in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia; Michigan has joined Mississippi in passing one. The frenzy is the result of a curious assumption by politicians that In God We Trust is not just patriotic (at a time when no patriotic gesture must go unmade) but is an appropriate response to domestic attack -- a defiand group cheer when the terrorists yell "Allah akbar!" Indeed, in several states the motto is specifically included in homeland security legislation, presumably as insurance in the event more strident defenses fail.

Those pushing the phraise as an official cheer finesse the church and state issue by claiming that In God We Trust isn't a religious statement (despite the fact it's 25 percent God) but is actually a founding principal and therefore benignly bureaucratic. After all, they point out, it's our national motto.

True, but there's nothing founding about it. The nation's original motto was E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for "Out of Many, One" and makes sense for a democratic republic. It remained the motto until 1956, when a cold war Congress replaced it with In God We Trust. In the words of Colorado Republican Bob Schaffer, one of the sponsors of the recent House resolution, the new motto united us as a people and made us into the greatest country on the planet. (That and a whole lot of bombs.) If In God We Trust unites us, how can it also infuriate so many Americans who don't want their kids subjected to religious sentiments at school? No one filed any federal lawsuits over E Pluribus Unum.

To those who believe In God We Trust is a bedrock truth, a few questions: Why bother with homeowners' insurance? Why pay for health insurance? Why lock your car? Why vaccinate your kids? And to George W. Bush, who's second to none when it comes to trusting God, why ask for a $370 billion defense budget?

However much we may trust in God, we still shuffle the cards, count our change, own a handgun (or several), get flu shots and otherwise cover our asses on every secular level. In public schools, that means absorbing sufficient knowledge to be employable. Post In God We Trust in the average classroom and you've offered an alternative to studying -- the last choice kids need. It may be our nation's motto, but it's also the adage of those who scoff at condoms, drive Ford Explorers, load their 401(k)s with company stock and bet on the Chicago Cubs. And that is why it doesn't belong on classroom walls.

This article appeared in the Forum section of the September, 2002 issue of Playboy magazine. It is reproduced without permission.
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