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.
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.