Up until 1956 E Pluribus Unum, “One out of many”, was the (unofficial?) motto of the U.S. and had been for nearly two hundred years. Then the Cold War happened. The enemy wasn’t just deemed to be political (i.e. a nation), but also ideological (communism and atheism). “In God We Trust” was then adopted as the official U.S. motto in 1956 during the Eisenhower Administration, which was also about the same time that “One Nation Under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. Multiple Supreme Court cases have upheld the constitutionality of this motto, stating that government recognition of God does not go against the establishment clause of the Constitution. In other words, the adoption of the motto does not constitute the establishment of a state-church (which is what the authors of the Constitution were intending to prohibit). Recently, the Freedom from Religion Foundation decided to sue the U.S. Treasury for having the motto on currency, saying that “the religious verbiage is proselytizing, discriminatory and a per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause”. (Spoiler Alert: They’re not going to strike down the motto from our currency, so sorry to any atheists who are hoping otherwise).
Personally, I think “In God We Trust” is a fine motto (though I think it is ridiculous to place it on money). If the U.S. government and the people of this nation really trust in God, then why do we have the highest military and defense spending in the world? (among other things). Though, I think the old motto of “E Pluribus Unum” is perhaps even better. It seems much more fitting as a national motto. It is at least more inclusive.
Interestingly enough, even though “In God We Trust” wasn’t adopted as the motto until 1956, it had been on circulating currency for decades. It first appeared on currency in 1864 on the two-cent coin and slowly started appearing on more currency through the decades, with 1938 being the watershed moment when the motto began appearing on all U.S. currency (see a history of the motto here).
Why is it that I don’t ever seem to hear from Christians that having “In God We Trust” on our money is sacrilegious or perhaps even outright blasphemous? The only response I’ve seen from Christians regarding this issue is usually along the lines of: “Those bloody atheists, always trying to pervert this godly nation! I wish they would just die and go to the lake of fire already!” Personally, as a Christian and a theology student, I’m all for taking “In God We Trust” off of our currency. Having it there seems like hypocrisy to the nth degree, because if Americans were honest with themselves (and this definitely includes American evangelicals), our motto would be: “In Mammon We Trust”. I would be fully supportive of removing “In God We Trust” from our currency. In fact, I think it would be great to take religion out of politics altogether. Confusing God and nation, as they are in parts of the Middle East and as they were in Nazi Germany, can only lead to loyalties becoming ambiguous and extremism taking over.
Having “In God We Trust” on our money perverts God by associating him with America and money.