Regarding Professor Simon’s opinion column in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, May 26, 2023, he noted, “the Establishment Clause or ‘the Separation of Church and State,’ is straightforward and essential to uphold our democratic values.”
But, like every coin, every story has two sides. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a municipality to open official government meetings with prayer. The official National Motto, “In God We Trust” has been in place since 1956 and the words “In God Is Our Trust” are in the final verse of the complete version of the Star Spangled Banner, which was voted by Congress in 1931 as the country’s National Anthem. In fact, five states have godly references in their state motto and Ohio’s motto is a popular bible verse, “With God All Things Are Possible.” The Ohio motto was upheld by a 9-4 vote of the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals with the support of numerous faith-based groups including Muslims.
All U.S. coins have had the National Motto since 1938 and all paper money since 1966. The motto, “In God We Trust” first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864. The motto was inspired by the similar words in the Star Spangled Banner, written in 1814, according to former U.S. Mint Director James Pollock.
Critics often charge that the phrase runs afoul of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and constitutes establishment of religion by the government. However, Appeals Courts have consistently held that some traditional, patriotic, passive or ceremonial words do not amount to government sponsorships of a religious exercise or the establishment of a religion.
In 2019, famed atheist attorney Dr. Michael Newdow again lost his bid to remove “In God We Trust” from American currency, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear another legal challenge he brought against the National Motto on money. He has repeatedly claimed it violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Ironically, Newdow graduated from Brown University which has had as it’s official motto since 1765, “In Deo Speramus,” a Latin phrase meaning “In God We Hope.”
While the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 differently on the placement of public displays of the Ten Commandments, it did rule a 6-foot granite Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol to be a legitimate tribute to the nation’s history.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority “simply having religious context or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.” The courts have found a balance between these opposing views over the years and our democratic values have still been upheld, don’t you think Mr. Simon?
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