In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a new convert to Presbyterianism at the time, supported, under heavy influence from prominent Christian figures like Billy Graham and George MacPherson Docherty, the addition of the words “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance.
In 1956, Eisenhower signed into law legislation making “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States. With the Cold War looming large in the public consciousness, it was decided that something must be done to distance America from the godless Soviet Union.
By publicly affirming the U.S.’s position as a nation “under God” we were symbolically divorcing ourselves from the state-atheism of the enemy.
Here’s the breaking news: The Cold War is over. In fact, believe it or not, the Soviet Union no longer exists.
Still, Republicans and a few Democrats in the House of Representatives have found it necessary to introduce legislation “Reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States … and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.”
This is a noticeably desperate attempt by evangelical lawmakers to get God into our schools where they have otherwise failed to do so.
Until 1956, the de facto national motto was “E. Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one). I couldn’t think of a more appropriate slogan for the United States of America.
It represents perfectly the distinctive place that the U.S. has held and still holds in the world, as well as the spirit of rugged individualism that defines our nation. “E. Pluribus Unum” is also unquestionably anticommunist.
Instead, out of fear of a foreign enemy that no longer exists, we have opted for a motto that does not represent the nation as a whole. In the U.S., the fastest growing religious group (for lack of a better term) is that of the nonreligious.
The number of those who claim no religion has gone from about 7 percent to about 15 percent in the last two decades. That makes about 46 million Americans who are not represented by their nation’s official motto.
If we allowed the threat of an atheist enemy to scare us into instituting a decidedly religious national motto, what happens now that we are engaged in wars against religious fundamentalists abroad?
Given the rise of Islamophobia in America, especially on the right — as evidenced by Republican-introduced legislation against Sharia law in Tennessee, Oklahoma and elsewhere (legislation already prohibited by the First Amendment) — I am surprised the GOP would wish to reaffirm a motto so similar to the one that was reportedly chanted by the 9/11 hijackers as they plummeted toward their final destinations: “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is Great.”
Perhaps it’s time for a second fear-inspired motto change.