Church/State Separation

"In God We Trust" Promoted in Schools?

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Six states — Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Arizona — have recently approved legislation requiring or allowing public schools to display the words “In God We Trust” in prominent locations. South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Kentucky may soon pass similar laws.

“In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956. The fourth stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written during the War of 1812, includes, “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our Trust.’” The motto first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864 and on paper currency in 1957.

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However, if the phrase is not understood and appreciated, educators, like those at one Tennessee school (see photo), might conform to the letter of the law by simply posting a copy of a dollar bill. Students will never notice it.

Teaching Your Children and Students a Civics Lesson

It is important that educators teach their students the meaning of the motto. From an educational standpoint, every time students see the national motto they should think of its special meaning for the country.

When used as a national motto, the phrase “In God We Trust” is not a personal declaration. Every person in America does not trust in the same God and some do not believe there is a god at all. How can a nation as diverse as ours make such a specific declaration? 

The phrase reflects the civil foundation upon which America was founded in the same way that “one nation under God” does in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

America is unique in that it sees rights coming from God, not from the government. Instead of the divine right of kings, our Founders asserted the divine rights of the common man. That was truly revolutionary.

Following the lead of the Declaration, nearly every state constitution begins with thankfulness to the “Sovereign Ruler of the Universe” or “Grateful to Almighty God.” When learning civics, students should understand that the laws of their state flowed from the principle that there is a God who gave Mankind certain unalienable rights and that the state legislators were crafting laws to protect (not grant) those rights.

Giving our national motto more visibility is important. However, without parents and educators promoting its importance, schools can conform to the letter of the law and not inspire students about its value for their lives.

Discussion Questions for Students

1. Since all Americans don’t trust in God, why have a national motto stating, “In God We Trust”?

2. What does the preamble to our state’s constitution say about God (click here) and how does that relate to our national motto?

RESOURCE: For lesson plan ideas on a variety of topics, CLICK HERE.


New Jersey School Board Stands by "Under God" Flag

The East Hanover (New Jersey) Board of Education decided against removing the “One Nation Under God” flags from East Hanover Middle School and the Frank J. Smith Elementary School. This came in response to a letter from the atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), asking for the removal of the two flags that fly below the American flags. It is worth noting that FFRF isn't just against the display of "One Nation Under God" on a flag. It also opposes the phrase being in the Pledge of Allegiance, as well.

This isn't the first time "under God" has come under attack in New Jersey. In 2015, the Superior Court of New Jersey found in favor of keeping "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance after being challenged by atheists. In American Humanist Association v. Matawan–Aberdeen Regional School District the Court gave this inspiring statement:

"Over and over, from the writings of the founders of the Constitutions of both the United States and the State of New Jersey, emerges a faith in, and a reliance and even dependency upon God to help secure the blessings of liberties and freedom attendant upon good governance....

"[T]he founders of our present 1947 New Jersey Constitution saw fit to preface that document by expressing the gratitude of the people of this state 'to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy,' and the hope that God would 'bless[ ]...our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations.' The preamble to the 1947 Constitution is identical to the preamble to the Constitution of 1844.

"Indeed, the New Jersey Constitution, in various permutations since 1776, has made explicit references to 'Almighty God.' Under plaintiffs' reasoning, the very Constitution under which plaintiffs seek redress for perceived atheistic marginalization could itself be deemed unconstitutional, an absurd proposition which plaintiffs do not and cannot advance here. (Emphasis added)

"...Moreover, the words 'under God' are now as interwoven through the fabric of the Pledge of Allegiance as the threads of red, white, and blue into the fabric of the flag to which the pledge is recited. As a matter of historical tradition, the words “under God” can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words “In God We Trust” from every coin in the land, than the words “so help me God” from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787." (For more information, visit The Becket Fund.)

Maybe the East Hanover schools should begin posting -- in every classroom -- the preamble to the New Jersey Constitution as a civics lesson:

"We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Or, they could just summarize it with the words "one nation under God." Either way, teachers need to instruct their students on why "under God" is so important to our nation, their state, and their own lives. (Read my blog on this.)

As students grow into adulthood they will not defend what they do not cherish, and they will not cherish what they do not understand.

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