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  • In God We Trust—Still

    Fifty-five years ago this weekend, at the height of the Cold War, President Dwight Eisenhower designated “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States. Even before then, the motto had long been part of the American tradition.

    During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln placed it on the nation’s coins to help guide the country through that great scourge of war. This practice continues today, except the motto is now on all of the nation’s currency, not just the coins. In 1814, Francis Scott Key also employed the phrase in the last stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner”: “And this be our motto: In God is our Trust.” Even the Declaration of Independence appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the world.”

    Eisenhower, Lincoln, Keys, and the Founders all understood the sentiment of George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor.”

    Not everyone embraces this motto. The American Humanist Association recently opposed its inclusion on a Georgia license plate design, saying it “does not speak for all Americans” and is “a slap in the face to the thousands of Georgia residents who respect the separation of church and state.” This group fundamentally misunderstands the First Amendment. The separation of church and state is not about barring all religious language or references to God from the public square—it is about preventing laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” which the motto does not do.

    Throughout trying times in our history—the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Cold War—Americans have embraced the meaning of this motto. It is only appropriate that we remember it today for what it is: neither mere words printed on the dollars in your wallet nor an establishment of religion, but an acknowledgement of “the providence of Almighty God.”

    Thomas Sanford is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm


    Posted in Featured, First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    25 Responses to In God We Trust—Still

    1. West Texan says:

      Good article Thomas. "In God We Trust" is deist in origin referring to nature's laws. To claim it's religious is disingenuous and misleading. We are not a theocracy but rather a republic that recognizes human self-determination, preservation and dignity. No man is above these basic rights of people. Those who violate humanity's golden rule will ultimately be judged by the highest Authority. This certainly includes dogmatic theists and social progressives alike.

    2. Patrick says:

      Obama and Congress needs to read this. Short, but to the point. People should never "In Government We Trust", it should always be God.

    3. BourbonDemocrat says:

      A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left. – Ecclesiastes 10:2

      • PK Howard says:

        While Elisha was still saying this, the messenger arrived. And the king said, "All this misery is from the LORD! Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?"

    4. John says:

      [ Folly and Wickedness of Men. ] For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. – Psalm 14:1

      • PK Howard says:

        Yes there is no one who does good. So let us kill our neighbors in the name of our god because we all know our god always takes our side in war!

        Okay so if folly comes from the wickedness of men, how can you say that the bible is written inspirational word of god? Men men inscribed the words. Perhaps written with altered motives from wicked men?

    5. Doug Indeap says:

      The government's inscription of the phrase "In God we trust" on coins and currency, as well as its addition of the words "under God" to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 and adoption of the phrase "In God we trust" as a national motto in 1956, were mistakes, which should be corrected. Under our Constitution, the government has no business proclaiming that "we trust" "In God." Some of us do, and some of us don't; each of us enjoys the freedom to make that choice; the government does not and should not purport to speak for us in this regard. Nor does the government have any business calling on its citizens to voice affirmation of a god in any circumstances, let alone in the very pledge the government prescribes for affirming allegiance to the country. The unnecessary insertion of an affirmation of a god in the pledge puts atheists and other nonbelievers in a Catch 22: Either recite the pledge with rank hypocrisy or accept exclusion from one of the basic rituals of citizenship enjoyed by all other citizens. The government has no business forcing citizens to this choice on religious grounds, and it certainly has no business assembling citizens' children in public schools and prescribing their recitation of the pledge–affirmation of a god and all–as a daily routine.

      But that's just me talking. The courts, on the other hand, have sometimes found ways to excuse such things, for instance with the explanation that they are more about acknowledging tradition than promoting religion per se. Draining the government's nominally religious statements or actions of religious meaning (or at least purporting to do so) and discounting them as non-religious ritual–sometimes dubbed "ceremonial deism"–is one way to find them not to conflict with the First Amendment.

      The irony is that, like you, ordinary folks, though, commonly see things differently than the courts; when they read "[i]n God we trust," they think the Government is actually declaring that "we" as a people actually "trust" the actual "God" they believe in. If they understood it as merely a ritualistic phrase devoid of religious meaning, they would hardly get as exercised as they do about proposals to drop it. As you can imagine, those more interested in championing their religion than the constitutional principle of separation of church and state sometimes seek to exploit and expand such "exceptions" even if it requires they fake interest only in tradition. Or, put differently on the other hand, if the courts forthrightly recognized that the motto truly means what you and most others take it to mean, they would need to face the fact that it contravenes the Constitutional separation of church and state.

    6. True freedom lover says:


    7. pukirahe says:

      I think that the wise and religious Americans
      should speak for the truth and for the
      spiritual civilization of the human eace.
      Fear not any opposition, because no power
      can stand before the omnipotence of Gpd.

    8. Charles H. Green says:

      I'm no lawyer, but stamping "In God We Trust" on our currency feels to me at least arguably to fall under the "respecting establishment of religion" prohibition. It may not promote Presbyterianism or Judaism, but it sure sounds like the State promoting God. And it just feels, at least to me, to be annoying, preachifying, finger-wagging, holier-than-thou, and intrusive.

      Show me a group of atheists who support "In God We Trust" on our currency and I might feel differently. But until then, it feels to me like yet another special interest group–the religious community–trying to cloak themselves in the constitution.

      I prefer to keep my spirituality, or even lack thereof, to myself–and like yacking on cell phones on the train, I wish others would do so as well. You don't want to hear my opinion every time you open your wallet, why should it be hard to understand why I don't want to hear yours?

      • West Texan says:

        My earlier reply wasn't printed here but addresses your comment. "in God We Trust" has nothing to do with religion anymore than atheism does. The motto, however, is connected to natural law. We are a nation of laws that no man is above. It's not a theist motto but rather one of deist origin. The short answer is it doesn't violate the separation clause. 18th century Christians didn't want any religion in government because of their negative experience with the Church of England.

      • Todd says:

        Abraham Lincoln? George Washington? Francis Scott Key? Dwight D. Eisenhower? The Founding Fathers? Are you calling them a religious special interest group? Did you even read the article above?

      • Guest says:

        I'm sorry you are so easily offended. I disagree with a lot of things that are wrong with this country, but I don't run around ringing my hands about how offended I am. I mean really….? How often do you sit there and read your money? Christians are not a special interest group. We are people from all walks of life who believe in a Higher Authority than imperfect man. You don't see Christians running around trying to force our government to recognize any religion. Christians don't force their faith on anyone. You are entitled to not believe in a Deity, but that disbelief doesn't give anyone the right to obliterate every mention of one when the majority of the country still believes in One.

    9. Scot - New Jersey says:

      Like it or not, this country was founded for the purpose of individual expression of religious ideas. The country was founded on a strong Judeo-Christian background and ethic. The Republic which our founders created was meant to work hand-in-hand with the religious beliefs of the people. Our laws were designed to compliment a basic moral understanding in the people being governed…not replace or abolish it. It was expected, and in fact the founders have said that our Republic was not meant for and could not long survive in a Godless, non-religious environment.

      Our motto is simply an expression of that intended link to the Creator. It's not about establishing a "State Religion" which is what the Constitution forbids…it is about recognizing the beliefs upon which this country was founded. Your freedom to not believe in God is possible only because of the founders belief in the sanctity of individual freedom. But realize that you are in the minority in the world…and that by far, most people believe in a Creator of one type or another. So what if we choose to put In God We Trust on our currency…get over it…you are free not to believe.

      • Charles H. Green says:

        First of all, i think you meant 'complement,' not compliment.

        Secondly, both you and the guest above you seem to suggest this is an issue of majority and minorities–whereas the constitutional issue is very much about protection of minority rights. Do you really mean to reduce this issue to one of votes?

        But never mind all that. The best arguments in this stream have to do with the notion of deism, of natural law, as informing the views of the Founding Fathers, and linking back to our earliest history.

        True–and a very good point. On the other hand, I refer you all back to the article to remember, very simply, that the phrase "In God We Trust" only appeared on our currency in the 1950s–a very dark period in our nation's history, when Joseph McCarthy rode high, linking communists to atheists in a religious battle against Christianity.

        Before that–for roughly the first 175 years of our nation, including the period of the Founding Fathers, the official motto of the United States was NOT "In God We Trust"–it was E Pluribus Unum, a Latin phrase meaning, "Out of many, one."

        Both "In God We Trust" and the addition of "under God" to the pledge of allegiance happened in the 1950s. If these great notions date back to the notions of natural law as interpreted by the Founding Fathers–then why didn't they say so in the first place? Why did we have to wait 150 years for revisionist historians to tell us what they "really" meant?

        And as long as we're on it, the fact is the Founding Fathers weren't all that greatly in favor of Christianity as some of you seem to suppose. Here are some quotes from a few of them:

        From John Adams:
        As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
        – John Adams, letter to FA Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

        From Benjamin Franklin:
        "I think they were invented not so much to secure religion as the emoluments of it. When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support, itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one, (Works, Vol. viii., p. 506).

        From Thomas Jefferson:
        "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies" (Letter to Dr. Woods).

        And while not a founding father himself, Abraham Lincoln bears quoting as well:
        "My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them".

        In short, yes they were primarily deists. But the fact that this phrase (In God We Trust) was never concocted by them, that in fact a different was chosen, and that this phrase didn't come up for over a century, and then only in a witch-hunting right-wing time of anti-atheism, should give us all pause.

        There just aren't any good historical reasons for including the phrase. Which leaves us just with the argument from the majority: "this is a Judaeo-Christian country." I think it's reasonable that a Muslim or a Hindu or an atheist would not feel particularly comforted by that argument.

        • and2therepublic, ill says:

          "I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him … That He made man at first perfectly holy; that the first man sinned, and as he was the public head of posterity, they all became sinners in consequence of his first transgression, are wholly indisposed to that which is good and inclined to evil, and on account of sin are liable to all the miseries of this life, to death, and to the pains of hell forever. I believe that God … did send His own Son to become a man, die in a room and stead of sinners, and thus to lay a foundation for the offer of pardon and salvation to all mankind, so as all may be saved who are willing to accept the Gospel offer …"

          Roger Sherman: signer of the Declaration of Independence; signer of the U.S. Constitution; "Master builder" of the Constitution; Judge; Framer of the Bill of Rights; U.S. Senator.

          Lewis Henry Boutell, The Life of Roger Sherman (Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Company, 1896) pp. 271-273.

        • and2therepublic says:

          "[T]he Founding Fathers weren't all that greatly in favor of Christianity." POPPYCOCK

          "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity." – John Adams – letter to Thomas Jefferson – June 28, 1813.

          "I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others." – Thomas Jefferson – letter to Benjamin Rush – April 21, 1803.

          "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are." – George Washington – from his speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs – May 12, 1779.

          I have much more to establish refutement of your assertion.

          • Charles H. Green says:

            If you want to "establish refutement" of my assertion, first you have to quote it right.

            I didn't assert "Founding Fathers weren't all that greatly in favor of Christianity."

            I asserted "Founding Fathers weren't all that greatly in favor of Christianity as some of you seem to suppose.

            Since it looked to me like most of the commenters here were very strong in asserting the connection between the founding fathers and Christian belief, I was saying "not as much as you appear to think."

            And in proof I gave a few counter-examples. Your citing counter-counter-examples doesn't disprove anything–it just shows many of them said some very pro-Christian things, and many of them said some things that weren't so much.

            But that's a sideshow. The main point of this whole original blogpost was that In God We Trust linked back to historical leaders in our nation's history, beginning with the revolution.

            I'm just saying read the very first sentence in the original post. The fact that this phrase didn't make it to our currency until the 1950s. Instead, we had E Pluribus Unum, which started about 1780, and was on our currency until 1956.

            If In God We Trust was so obvious to the Founding Fathers and our earlier leaders–then why did they choose NOT to have it on our currency?

            The fact that they didn't simply suggests that much of the passion for it dates to a lot more recently in our national history than the original post implied.

          • independent patriot says:

            And I to yours, sir……Yes, "the general principles of Christianity" not the slavish adherence to them.

            Jefferson was the original red letter Christian. Jefferson spent much time extracting the words of Jesus from the New Testament and compiling them into his own version of the "Bible". Who was the Jesus that Jefferson found? He was not the familiar figure of the New Testament. In Jefferson's Bible, there is no account of the beginning and the end of the Gospel story. There is no story of the annunciation, the virgin birth or the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. The resurrection is not even mentioned.
            Jefferson discovered a Jesus who was a great Teacher of Common Sense. His message was the morality of absolute love and service. Its authenticity was not dependent upon the dogma of the Trinity or even the claim that Jesus was uniquely inspired by God. Jefferson saw Jesus as
            "a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, (and an) enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law."

    10. and2therepublic says:

      "Reason cannot, by itself, explain why there is reason. Science cannot, by itself, explain why there is science. Man's discovery and application of science are products of reason.

      Reason and science can explain the existence of matter, but they cannot explain why there is matter.

      Science is a critical aspect of human existence, but it cannot address the spiritual nature of man. In this respect, science is a dead end around which the Atheist refuses to reason. Reason itself informs man of its own limitations and, in doing so, directs him to the discovery of a force greater than himself — a supernatural force responsible for the origin of not only human existence but all existence, and which itself has always existed and will always exist. For most, the supernatural reveals itself in the Creator — God. Man seeks God's guidance through faith and prayer. The Agnostic accepts the supernatural, but is not so sure of the form of its existence. The Deist accepts that God created the universe and man's condition but left it to man to sort things out through reason."

      Mark R. Levin, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, 2009, Simon & Schuster, NY, NY, pp. 24-25.

    11. Bobbie says:

      It really makes no sense. God doesn't promote nor identifies with any particular church or specific religion. It's these institutes that promote God by choice to individuals. So the use of God identified in a positive way has no intention of offending and is a line of tolerance and a show of weakness to be intolerant. God is who individuals make Him. If atheist make Him non-existent, how and why can atheist OR ANYONE take offense?? TIME, TROUBLE AND ATTENTION!!!!!! all wastes thereof…

      • james says:

        And why would anyone take offense if us atheist strive to have those words removed from our money. Those words shouldn't be on our money and there shouldn't be any discussions about it.

    12. Stephanie says:

      In Response to:
      "Before that–for roughly the first 175 years of our nation, including the period of the Founding Fathers, the official motto of the United States was NOT "In God We Trust"–it was E Pluribus Unum, a Latin phrase meaning, "Out of many, one.
      Both "In God We Trust" and the addition of "under God" to the pledge of allegiance happened in the 1950s."
      With all due respect, the history of "In God We Trust" in America dates a lot further back than the 1950s. Just because it wasn't "mandated by an Act of Congress on all coins" (http://www.coinlibrary.com/info/ingodwetrust.html) until 1955, doesn't take away the historical significance of this message struck on our American coins since 1861 & in circulation since 1864.
      I take offense to anyone wanting to remove this piece of historical inspiration. It's a pitty that atheist divide this country by protesting the very message that was intended for unity.

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