Today's vote in the House of Representatives encouraging display of the "In God We Trust" motto in public buildings is the latest in the painfully habitual trend of Congress manipulating religion for political gain, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"You can tell it's an election year -- politicians are finding religion again," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "With their latest nod to God, members of Congress have simultaneously trivialized, politicized and manipulated religion. That's a rare and disturbing feat, even for them."
To bolster its case, the House resolution, points to the ubiquitous nature of the motto, adding that "In God We Trust" is "prominently engraved in the wall above the Speaker's dais in the Chamber of the House of Representatives."
For AU's Lynn, this is telling.
"Having 'In God We Trust' over the Speaker's chair didn't keep Newt Gingrich from committing adultery," Lynn observed. "Members of Congress ought to try setting a moral example instead of preaching to the rest of us."
The congressional vote is an outgrowth of a project by the American Family Association. In March of this year, the Tupelo, Miss.-based Religious Right group announced a new campaign to display "In God We Trust" posters in public schools.
The Rev. Donald W. Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, published a column in the March 2000 issue of the AFA Journal asking Religious Right activists across the country to purchase 11 x 14-inch posters with the words "In God We Trust," at the rate of three for $10.
The Colorado State Board of Education became the first government body to endorse the AFA approach when it voted on July 6 to urge public schools to post the religious phrase. (The vote was non-binding, and no schools have posted them yet.)
In reaction to the controversy surrounding the Colorado action, the House of Representatives today voted on a voice vote to endorse the motto. The resolution, H.Res.548, sponsored by Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colo.), "encourages the display of the National Motto of the United States of America in public buildings throughout our Nation."
The House resolution is filled with historical and political oddities, including the assertion that the religious motto "serves the secular purpose of expressing confidence in the future and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society."
At one point, the resolution notes that the religious motto is "as old as the republic itself." However, the nation's motto was originally "E Pluribus Unum" (or, "From Many, One"), a phrase selected by a committee of Founding Fathers that included James Madison.
"In God We Trust" was first used on American coins when it was added to the two-cent piece in the 1860's. It was officially added to all money in 1956 when Congress approved the phrase as the national motto.
Today's vote comes less than a month after the House overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution in support of Ohio's state motto, "With God, all things are possible."
"Eventually, Congress will stop its crusade to appear pious in the eyes of the voters," Lynn concluded. "But we may have to wait until after the election."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.