15 May In ____ We Trust
The well-known phrase IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on a two-cent coin in 1864. Three years before that time, Reverend M. R. Watkinson wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, requesting that God be acknowledged, in some way, on American currency. In response Secretary Chase sent Reverend Watkinson the following letter, “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.”
This exchange of letters began the road that led to the creation of the phrase that would, in 1956, become the national motto of the United States. IN GOD WE TRUST. It’s on our coins and our paper money, it’s our national motto, and yet, it seems as though trusting in God, especially through religious devotion, is no longer an acceptable or honorable thing to adhere to in our country.
America’s founding fathers upheld the freedom of religion and extolled the benefits that it brings to society. George Washington himself proclaimed, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Despite our nation’s openly religious and God-fearing past it seems as though expressions of faith in most, if not all, public forums have become a societal taboo.
What religion does for society
As American’s we must decide whether or not our intolerance towards expression of religion in the public square is really helping, or rather hurting our society as a whole. In Patrick F. Fagan’s report, Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability, we find many chilling facts concerning religiosity and society, which indicate that religious beliefs and practices are associated with:
- Higher levels of marital happiness and stability;
- Lower divorce rates;
- Stronger parent-child relationships;
- Lower cohabitation rates;
- Greater educational aspirations and attainment, especially among the poor;
- Lower rates of out-of-wedlock births;
- Higher levels of good work habits;
- Lower levels of teen sexual activity;
- Greater longevity and physical health;
- Less abuse of alcohol and drugs;
- Higher recovery rates from addictions to alcohol or drugs;
- Lower rates of suicide, depression, and suicide ideation;
- Higher levels of well-being and happiness;
- Lower levels of many infectious diseases;
- Higher levels of self-control, self-esteem, and coping skills;
- Less juvenile crime;
- Higher rates of charitable donations and volunteering;
- Less violent crime;
- Higher levels of community cohesion and social support for those in need; and
- Less domestic violence
Upon reading these findings it is hard not to see the clear advantage religion has in the lives of all individuals who practice it compared to those who don’t. All of Fagan’s findings show either higher levels of positive or highly sought after outcomes and attributes, or, lower levels of undesirable behaviors and characteristics. It is, then, unfathomable to me why, as a nation, we have worked so hard to tear down one of the few things our forefathers worked so hard to build, and then, buoy up.
Our nation in general has moved further towards upholding a radical separation of religion and politics based widely off of the misunderstanding of Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “separation of church and state.” This small, but largely misunderstood statement has been taken to mean that religion should be entirely personal and private, it should be kept in one’s home, or even in one’s heart, but that it should not be allowed in public life and institutions such as public schools. The people, who believe this, work to get their government, our government, to make laws and regulations that will prohibit outward expressions of one’s religion and faith, especially in any public forum. However, they forget that an even more important statement was made, three years previous to Jefferson’s statement, concerning this idea that church and state should be separate. It is found as the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
We continue to allow ourselves to be ever increasingly governed by popular culture and whim and governed less and less by the dream our founding fathers had for America. It feels as though many believe that the practice and use of any religion in public arenas undermines another’s ability to practice their own religion, or lack thereof, because they see themselves as being forced into religious observance through the actions of the one practicing in their religion openly.
This notion is absolutely arbitrary. For instance, let’s look at it in terms of food. If there were two people sitting at parallel tables for lunch in a restaurant and one is a vegetarian and one is not, and the non-vegetarian orders a hamburger for their meal that does not automatically mean that the vegetarian must also eat a hamburger for lunch. The vegetarian is still able to order whatever it is they would like to eat. In addition, no one would ever tell the non-vegetarian that they were not allowed to order a hamburger because a vegetarian was sitting at the table next to theirs and it might upset them to see the non-vegetarian eat a hamburger. If that happened people would be outraged. It would probably end up on the news and there would be a huge uproar across this nation about why it is inappropriate for anyone to dictate what food we can and can’t eat, and when we can and can’t eat it, and in front of whom we can or can’t do so. However, people do that with religion all the time, telling people how and where and in front of whom they can or cannot worship, simply because it might offend someone of another faith.
It is hard to understand how our nation has gotten to a point where something of such great importance for our country, with such beneficial impacts on our society, as religious practice, is swept under the rug while silly things, that have little to no societal ramifications, such as food, are placed on a pedestal of importance. Our founding fathers, and many of the people who truly helped to rear this nation and bring it out of obscurity to be so powerful and so acclaimed, believed that there was an innate importance in protecting the freedom of religion in all sectors of public and private forums. They knew the importance of trusting in their God and seeking His guidance in setting up the different policies pertaining to this country.
We have gotten to where we are as a nation largely because of our willingness to protect our freedom of religion. It is my belief that if we do not work to continue this protection of freedom of religion we will see our nation crumble and fall into obscurity. We must return to our roots, we must return to the fight of our founding fathers, we must regain our knowledge of the importance of religion. IN GOD WE must TRUST.
Janaya L. Johnson is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University – Idaho where she studied Marriage and Family. She grew up being taught that the Freedom of Religion we have in America is worth fighting to preserve.
 James D. Richardson, Compilation of Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1907), Vol. 1, p. 213.