Point of View: Oklahoma should pass "In God We Trust" bill
In what should be a relatively noncontroversial proposal, the Oklahoma Legislature is considering a bill that would require government state buildings to post our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
House Speaker Charles McCall, who introduced the legislation, told The Oklahoman, "It is important for government to acknowledge history and project the values that make America great. 'In God We Trust' is on buildings, currency and more across America because it is our motto and an important part of our history and founding principles."
McCall is absolutely correct.
Predictably, however, reaction from those opposed to publicly displaying our national motto was swift and divisive. The American Atheists organization claimed that posting our national motto is “extremist,” “dangerous” and “exclusionary.”
In truth, the national motto has long been part of our national ethos and unifies us regardless of our particular religious beliefs.
As McCall said, it is minted on our currency and has been since 1864. President Eisenhower signed the law making it our official national motto in 1956. Those who watch the president’s 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. According to one estimate, more than 600 cities and counties nationwide display the national motto in some way, from office buildings to schools to police cars.
These public displays simply reflect the truth that our national motto echoes values long part of the American psyche. Such was the national sentiment by the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Key penned the fourth verse of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, saying “And this be our motto — ‘In God is our trust.’”
Despite the long history and tradition of our national motto, some activists go out of their way to be offended by it. Distorting the motto’s purpose and vilifying Oklahoma legislators who support the bill, they impinge the motives of those who believe the motto’s display sends a message of unity.
Perhaps that is because the failed claim that the national motto is unconstitutional has no foundation in the law and has been repeatedly rejected by the courts.
In fact, every federal appeals court to consider the national motto has upheld it. The U.S. Supreme Court, 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 (New Doe Child #1 v. United States). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the motto earlier in the same case. Similarly, in 2018 the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (New Doe Child #1 v. Congress of the United States) and the Seventh Circuit (Mayle v. United States) both upheld the constitutionality of the motto.
Even the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 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.” Forty years later, in Newdow v. Lefevre, the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed that holding.
Despite the claims of the permanently offended, there are few things in our country today more unifying across the cultural and political spectrum than our national motto. During a time of confusion and division in our nation, the Oklahoma House is right to provide a visible reminder of a common state and national heritage.
The Oklahoma Legislature should ignore the divisive rhetoric of the perpetually offended and adopt the proposal.
Roger Byron is senior counsel and Chris Freund is director of media relations for First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all (www.FirstLiberty.org).