Written by: Matt Seyer
[This blog was written last semester, yet the College Democrats still feel it is applicable to current events.]
Not long ago, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted on a bill to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States. Not surprisingly, it passed overwhelmingly (396-9). It’s puzzling as to why they chose to do this. The motto has not been in any particular danger; we’re not observing any kind of massive movement to eliminate it. So far as I know, there is only one non-religious Congressman, and he hasn’t been making much of a fuss over this specific issue. Furthermore, it was a House Concurrent Resolution, which does not have the force of law, but rather expresses an attitude or opinion of the legislature. Consequently, regardless of any perceived threat, the entire procedure was completely pointless in a legal sense.
Thankfully, this Resolution comes to us at a time when unemployment is at its lowest in decades, Social Security has been saved for the next hundred years, and the debt crisis has been decidedly solved. We have plenty of time to devote to renewing the wedding vows between America and God, to paraphrase Jon Stewart.
This really isn’t the case, though, is it? In reality, there are many problems far more deserving of Congress’s attention. This Resolution isn’t all that astonishing – frankly, much of what the Republican-controlled House has been doing these last few months has been pretty anti-reality. It is, however, offensive and irresponsible to devote any time whatsoever to this topic in the midst of all our national concerns.
But while we’re on the subject, let’s be clear. This law, the law which declares that “In God We Trust” is our national motto, is an absolute violation of the First Amendment. That amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
There are many instances in which the interpretation of this simple statement is murky, but this is not one of them. A law stating that the official motto of this country is a religious one is plainly a law about the establishment of religion. It is putting a religious belief above non-religion, and it is putting a monotheistic belief above polytheism and pantheism. I’m sure many Americans find non-belief unsettling, polytheism irrelevant, and pantheism silly. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that this law violates the Establishment Clause.
Several dissenters in the House echo my sentiments:
“For more than 50 years, the National Motto has been the law of the land. While some have questioned its constitutionality, none of these challenges has succeeded. We wonder, therefore, why the Majority believes this precatory intervention by Congress is so necessary.”
“By aggressively pursuing a vehicle that places the government in the position of making an affirmatively religious statement, the Majority has transgressed the clear line between government and religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
Beyond the constitutionality of the law, this most recent surge of religious sentiment in politics is bizarre in another sense. It’s as though Republicans believe that if they slap “In God We Trust” on as many public buildings as possible, the country will be more religious. This is akin to someone believing that if they say, “I can fly,” to themselves enough times, they will be able to do so. The only Republican to vote no on the Resolution, Rep. Justin Amash, said this:
“The fear that unless ‘In God We Trust’ is displayed throughout the government, Americans will somehow lose their faith in God is a dim view of the profound religious convictions many citizens have. Trying to score political points with unnecessary resolutions should not be Congress’s priority.”
Rep. Amash gets it. He understands the danger that mere sloganeering presents to authentic faith and the offensiveness of the political manipulation of religion. Confusingly, the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, very much understands the frivolity of such action. At least, he used to. It was just about a year ago that Cantor blasted symbolic resolutions as a waste of Congress’s time.
This Resolution was a fool’s errand from the start. The Republican-controlled House should be putting all its efforts towards coming up with realistic solutions to our problems. They are instead taking a moment to not only belittle the genuine faith of many Americans by unnecessarily trumpeting religion but also to reaffirm a fundamentally unconstitutional law. There is simply no justifiable reason to have done this, and the fact that so many thought it was a good expenditure of time, and that so many signed it, is a saddening notion indeed.
Here's the roll call for H Con Res 13. The nonbinding resolution "encourages the public display of the national motto in…