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The debate over the motto IN GOD WE TRUST has been waged ever since it was first requested that it be placed on U.S. currency in 1861. But what are the real origins of the motto? And should it be on our shared national currency?

It is believed that the first citizen to appeal that it be minted on coins was Rev. M.R. Watkinson, who was the Minister of Gospel at a church in Ridleyville, Pennsylvania.

His letter to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase read:

Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.

To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.

Secretary Chase then wrote a letter to the Director of the Philadelphia Mint James Pollock indicating that he should prepare an appropriate motto on November 20th, 1861.

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.

The two-cent piece

The two-cent piece

The mint could not make the changes without an act of Congress, so in December of 1864 an act of legislation was passed that approved a change in composition of the one-cent coin as well as authorized the minting of a two-cent coin. Secretary Chase had approved mottoes that read IN GOD WE TRUST, which then first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

Another law was passed on March 3, 1865 which allowed the Mint Director to place the motto on all of the gold and silver coins as well. The motto was placed on the gold double-eagle, the gold half-eagle and the gold eagle. It was also placed on the silver coins as well as the nickel three-cent coin in 1866.

In February of 1873, Congress passed the Coinage Act, which stated that the Treasury Secretary, “may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 4.02.41 PMPresident Theodore Roosevelt, who had been a Sunday School teacher, strongly believed in the separation of church and state. When he took office after McKinley’s assassination, he deliberately did not swear on a bible and he did not believe that currency should bear IN GOD WE TRUST because money is used to buy worldly goods and services.

Roosevelt said in 1907, “My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege…”

The motto reappeared in 1938, when Congress initiated the production of the Jefferson nickel. All coins in the United States since 1938 have bore the motto.

IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on paper money in 1957 with the arrival of the one-dollar silver certificate. The addition of the motto to all paper currency occurred when the Bureau of Engraving and Printing converted to the dry intaglio printing processes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law that officially declared that IN GOD WE TRUST was the nation’s motto, two years after he had also pushed to have the phrase “under God” inserted into the pledge of allegiance.

The motto appears above the podium in the U.S. Congress as well as appearing on other government buildings. Pennsylvania public school districts were recently required to post the motto in every school building. Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives passed ‘The National Motto Display Act’ by a 14-9 vote and will require IN GOD WE TRUST to be displayed on a mounted plaque, student artwork, or some other form. Janice Rael, the vice president of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State said she believed that the proposal promotes religion over absence of religion.

“The last time I checked, God was religious,” Rael said. “The government should be neutral, and with this legislation the government is not neutral, the government is taking a position.”

Secularists unsuccessfully sued to have the motto removed from U.S. currency this year. The case brought against the U.S. Treasury Department was dismissed by a federal court. U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., wrote that “the Supreme Court has repeatedly assumed the motto’s secular purpose and effect,”according to the Associated Press. Baer also ruled that the federal appeals courts “have found no constitutional violation in the motto’s inclusion on currency,” and that the placement of the phrase didn’t constitute a “substantial burden” on secularists.

Although the motto is now law, should it be? Does it promote belief over non-belief? And if it does, where does that leave those patriots who love their country but do not share the same faith?

Many people argue that the concept of God is universal, and that it applies to people of all faiths, and even of those who just believe in a higher power. But maybe they might pause and reflect on how they might feel if the motto read IN ALLAH WE TRUST instead? The word Allah is just another name for God. Replacing the word “God” with “Allah” wouldn’t place any “substantial burden” on the religious. But the mere mention of it in this context would likely encourage anger from some quarters, who understandably feel there is an agenda being promoted that is not their own. Secularists feel this way in regards to the motto overall.

On April 21, 1787 the Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized the design of America’s very first copper penny. The coin depicted the sun shining down on a sundial with the caption “Fugio” which is latin for I flee/fly. The little penny, designed most likely by Benjamin Franklin, gave the holder the best piece of advice ever written on any money anywhere. The Congress should move quickly to replace it on the U.S. currency and public buildings post haste. What did the Fugio cent say?


  • Joe Baldwin

    The dollar is quite the fleeing object; it both runs away from it’s owner and gives the owner an ability to leave an oppressive situation (England in this case; Virginia to New Hampshire in mine).

  • Jesse Conlay

    Many people find it hard to empathize with the nonreligious who are offended by religious slogans and how they’re perpetuated and promoted by our government. This is partially because they see the nonreligious as an antagonist in the biography of the US; however, most of it is that they simply do not care how the “heathens” feel, as long as it isn’t affecting THEM in a negative way. “Christian Privilege” is the term you’ll see a lot in these debates, and it certainly explains the bizarre behavior exhibited by some Americans toward their fellow citizens, who are only trying to feel more welcome in their own country (ironically enough). Needless to say, separation of church and state (which is enormously beneficial to both the religious and nonreligious alike, a bit of research and you’ll agree) cannot invoke its full rewards in a society unless implemented completely. This does not mean that the government would be atheistic or anti-religious, it simply calls for neutrality on the government’s part with its dealings relating to religion (i.e. no “under God” in our pledge, no swearing in on bibles, no sanctioned prayers at congressional assemblies, etc.). The day we reach this state that has been yearned for ever since the founding fathers drafted the constitution, will be the day many widely controversial social debates will be put to rest and we can start moving forward as a nation.

    • n2oiroc

      excellent summary. it seems the people that cry the most over religion being removed from the government scream the loudest when any religion other than their own gets incorporated into anything government related. religious freedom is awesome until a state funded school puts in a foot washing station, then its outrage time. hypocrites.

      • Sue987654

        The majority of people in this country are still Christian. The reason people cry is because a few people who are offended by something they don’t believe in anyway want to change everything for everybody else. Religious freedom means freedom OF religion. NOt freedom from religion. Isn’t it interesting that we have taken God and prayer and any religious teachings, even historical about our founding fathers and their Christian practices out of schools…. yet we allow it in prisons. And the prisions keep growing. Maybe if we got back to some foundation instead of being so “me” focused and not wanting to follow any rules, especially God’s, maybe then wIf e would have fewer people in prisons. If public schools can’t display crosses or sing Christmas Carols, why should we embrace foot washing stations that are particular to the Muslim religion? By the way there were no Muslims among our founding fathers. Why is it Muslims are so miserable in their own countries so they come here and then they want to change everything like it was back home? Do you think a Muslim country is going to make special concessions for a few Christians? It’s not being hypocrites. It’s being fair and real.

        • Jesse Conlay

          It’s not about changing our country to accommodate people. As a matter of fact, separation of church and state is meant to eradicate the need to accommodate individual religious ideals, when applied correctly. And the reason it is looked upon unfavorably by the nonreligious to have “In God We Trust” on our currency is that it is exclusionary to citizens (tax-paying citizens, I might add) of the US with non-Christian views, and excluding people based on their religious views is very unamerican. This country is not about forcing the minority to simply deal with unconstitutional practices perpetuated by the majority; as a matter of fact, that happens to be EXACTLY what this nation was founded upon avoiding.

          • Sue987654

            Having In God We Trust on our money does not exclude anyone. The money works the same whether you believe in God or not.

          • Jesse Conlay

            Thank you for the insight. With that logic, does that mean you would be completely okay with our currency saying “In Allah We Trust”? Probably not. But it still works the same, right? The fact remains: the nonreligious are largely unimpressed by their tax dollars paying for the mint to print slogans on our currency that do not represent all Americans, simply a greedy majority. Did you read the article above, or are you simply here to troll? At this point I would prefer that the latter be true.

          • Sue987654

            Allah had nothing to do with the founding of this country. The founders were believers in God for the most part. And we were founded on Judeo-Christian principals. And it doesn’t cost any more to have the slogan on or off the money when it’s being printed or minted. I suppose you want Moses and the Ten Commandments chiseled off the Supreme Court as well. No matter how much you kick and scream and try to rewrite history, this nation was founded by people with strong faith in God. They came here to escape persecution. That’s why we have freedom of religion. You are free to believe what you want. withouit persecution in this country.

          • Jesse Conlay

            What you are saying is very contradictory. One second you preach “freedom of religion” and the next you’re saying how our country is founded on your god and that we should allow YOUR religion specifically to permeate the separation of religion and government. Take a look at the Ten Commandments. Read them thoroughly. Isn’t it peculiar how only three of them actually share any resemblance to laws in the United States? And those are the ones prohibiting murder, theft, and perjury (bearing false witness). Those three ideas appear in every legal system in every country in the world, by the way. The other seven commandments are not at all enforced in the US. If I want to covet what is my neighbors, I can do that all day long without hearing from a single deputy. It’s the same with adultery, graven images, using the “lord’s” name in vain, working on Sunday, and the rest. But wait, isn’t this a CHRISTIAN nation? How on earth can a CHRISTIAN nation only utilize 30 percent of His holy commandments? Well that sure baffles me.

          • Sue987654

            Not contradictory at all. We were founded on Judeo-Christian principals. That is a fact. However because the founders came from a country where they were persecuted for their reigion, we were founded on freedom of religion. Which means you are free to practice whatever religion you choose, or to practice none at all. What makes you think just because you’re Christian, you’re perfect? That’s just not the case with anyone. We’re all human and humans are not perfect. Even Christians.

          • Jesse Conlay

            So where in this are you given the right to impose your religion on government practices and taxpayer-funded events/institutions in the US? And did you not just read how only 3 of the Ten Commandments apply at all to American government? And that those 3 commandments are based on very basic principles used worldwide even before Christianity? How, then, is this nations government based on Judeo-Christian principles? Our government is becoming more and more secular each year, not less, and the world is becoming a better and better place because of it. Sooner or later, In God We Trust will be a distant memory in the mind of a more enlightened society.

          • Sue987654

            It gives us equal rights to express our religion or lack of it. It doesn’t cost any more to print something on money already being printed or minted. It does cost though to re-do everything to remove all of these references. So where do you get the right to impose taxpayers spending money to remove something at great expense that does you no harm?

          • Jesse Conlay

            It does do a great deal of harm, by subconsciously promoting mind sets like yours that act as though it’s the way things have always been (which, if you read the article, it has not). Removing the slogan would simply be a correction of an offense already committed. I get the right to have it taken off the currency from the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. If it said “In Allah We Trust”, it would do you no harm, but you would fight tooth and nail to have it removed. This is hypocrisy at its finest. You’ve been making up reasons to justify this mindset that don’t sound as bad as what you’re really thinking: as far as you’re concerned, this country belongs to good ol’ fashioned Protestant Christians and you’ll be damned if you’ll let some atheist tell you otherwise.

          • Sue987654

            Allah was not the name of the God that the Christians who came to this country worshiped. They came here so they could have the freedom to worship. Lucky for you they didn’t make it mandatory. Because they had been persecuted for their religion and they wanted people in this country to be free to worship as they choose. Do you really read your money before you spend it? You can fix that by using your ATM and credit cards and no cash becuase those do not contain a reference to God. Look I am not going to try to convince you to believe in God. I don’t care what you believe but don’t try to change what the country was founded on to suit your beliefs. The Supreme court has already heard this and decided In God We Trust can stay. Franikly I’m tired of every time someone is offended by a cross somewhere they have a fit about it and force it’s removal. Like I said, if you don’t believe in it, why should it matter to you? I see Jewish Stars of David around and they don’t bother me one bit. We live with Mosques and they don’t bother me either as long as they are peaceful. Why don’t you just live your life and forget about God since you don’t believe anyway? No one is forcing you to go to church or kneel and pray or anything. You’re lucky you live in this country and not somewhere else where you’d have a lot more to complain about.

          • MidtownGuy

            How dare you and your religious compatriots press your belief in a sky creature on all Americans through these slogans. No amount of writing, and you sure seem to ramble on repetitively, will change the unconstitutionality of it. I don’t care if you respond: I will not be answering again because you are a brainwashed person believing in antiquated fairy tales. Reason cannot prevail with such superstition racking your brain. You conveniently ignore the question of hypocrisy presented to you regarding the Ten Commandments. What a piece of work.

    • Sue987654

      The reason I hiave trouble emphathizing is because I don’t see how you can be offended or harmed by something you don’t believe in anyway. The constitution says the government shall make no laws concerning religion or the practice of religion. It does not say there shall be no religion. And it does not provide a guarantee that you will not be offended by anything while you are living here. The term “Christian Privilige” refers to the nation as a whole being priviliged and blessed because we were founded in the name of God and our laws based on the Ten Commandments. People believe we as a mostly Christian Nation have enjoyed success and special privilige from God. It does not mean Christians are priviliged.

      • Steve Conlay

        It’s not that he’s offended by something he doesn’t believe in. He’s just saying that the principle of the separation of church and state is being ignored. Though it does sound menial to bring it up the act of printing in god we trust on our money and saying under god in our pledge, but it does hold a symbolic implication that our government thinks of one religion over another. Which is exactly what it isn’t supposed to do. It’s simple, we are supposed to have an unbiased government (as an institution, politicians have the right to believe what they want) when it comes to religion.

        • Sue987654

          In my opinion, you are mis-interpreting separation of church and state. We were founded on Judeo Christian principals. Many of the founders themselves were ministers, preachers of some kind. Our laws and our society are based on the Christian religion. The purpose of separation of church and state was not to eliminate religion, it was to prevent the state from discriminating against certain religions or persecuting people for them as they themselves were persecuted before they came here.

          • Jesse Conlay

            If you honestly think that this country was founded on and adheres to genuine Judeo-Christian principles, you need to stop receiving history lessons from your pastor. That viewpoint has been thoroughly debunked on countless occasions (even by me on this page, just not in-depth). It is a hinderance to progress for you to repeat the same arguments without accepting new information. This country was founded mostly by Christians, yes; however, they were Christians smart enough to understand the consequences of having a theocratic government (at any degree), and the slippery slope that leads to it. “In God We Trust” or any other religious reference do not belong on currency in AMERICA, a constitutional republic that respects the views of ALL of its citizens without favoring one over the other.

          • Sue987654

            While I believe in God, I don’t have a pastor and have not been getting teachings from the church regarding history. If you are referring to the 10 commandments again, yes society has chosen to erode those thru more and more liberal policies and tolorance and acceptance of any and all behaviors and lifestyles. That is not the fault of the founders, that is on us as citizens becoming more and more me focused. You can argue all you want Jesse however the Supreme Court has already ruled and they disagree with you. Having In God we Trust does not favor one citizen over the other. But to remove it would be favoring non believers over beilevers because Athiesm is just as much a religion (or lack of it ) as any organized religion. Your God though is just yourself because your ego is so huge you can’t even imagine any being greater than yourself. Stop using money, use your ATM and your credit cards and you won’t have to see it. Or you could live with bit coins.

          • Steve Conlay

            You are mixing up being non religious and being unbiased. No one said the people in government can’t have a religion, nor should they favor the atheism over theism. Yes the supreme court has made the decision to keep it, only because Christians are the majority today and they can get away with things like that. But as society PROGRESSES people become more rational and inherently less religious through various knowledge becoming more popular through education making it become common for everyone to know off the top of their heads. It’s funny how the least educated places in the country are also the most religious… There might be a connection there… In god we trust will be off the dollar before my life is over i can guarantee that.

            You are right about Jesse’s god being himself, as an atheist i agree. I don’t need a book threatening me with an eternity of damnation if I don’t behave myself. I know by myself that raping, killing, and stealing from people is a messed up thing to do. It’s called empathy. If you need a book to tell you to be a good person are you really a good person or just doing what the book says for a reward? It’s not hard to understand if you actually get over yourself and the religion you were indoctrinated into. To build off of that last bit… Try telling an unbiased person who has never read any christian doctrines before that you think the earth was created in 6 days… and about the apple, the snake, and the rib. They would laugh at you because it’s silly. But I know i will never change your mind probably because you’re psychologically scarred from the threats of hell or you’re just personally attached to an imaginary friend. To each his/her own, but don’t try to act like you’re superior to anyone else because of you’re beliefs like you just did. You could be dead wrong.

          • Mike Wilson

            NO, having nothing on the US money is the neutral stance. Placing “In God We Trust” is supportive of a viewpoint. And that god thinks you should be killed for working on the Sabbath, for being gay, for looking over your shoulder, for not being part of Noah’s family…and several other petty things (too many to mention) and you think he should be honored. It’s not a consensus. Better is nothing printed.

            The forefather also thought slavery was right and women could not vote but we evolved out of that thinking, too. Please join us in 2014.

  • IronSun254

    It says In God We Trust” because we’re all praying every not that it’ll still have value in the morning.

  • TigreBlanco

    I cross it out with a sharpie on every bill I get and will continue to do so.

  • NavinJay

    “Not All Americans Trust In God” would at least be a true slogan. “In God We Trust” tries to declare that all Americans are either Christians or believe in some deity. When in fact, this is not the case.

  • dkw

    Bahhh get a lil bit of tolerance. A smidgen of religion wont hurt ya. A few words on a coin do not establish any kind of church. If you have not noticed atheist and people of faith often have opposite desires and are often diametrically opposed so accommodating both is simply not possible. The USA is a nation that provides religious freedom of expression if you can not tolerate some of that you may want to find another country . I suggest Russia or perhaps China for those who want to see no religion ever.

  • KingAdrock

    I think the real question should be: Why isn’t the motto “WE TRUST IN GOD”? If our motto and our money *has* to have a reference to god, can it at least not be in ass-backward Yoda-speak?

  • Max

    because for usa dollar is GOD