Responding to complaints from the Religious Right, Congress has passed legislation mandating that the phrase “In God We Trust” be moved from the edge to the back or front of the new presidential dollar coins.
President George W. Bush signed the measure into law Dec. 26. It was tucked into a $555 billion domestic spending bill after having been pushed by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Brownback and other Religious Right conservatives have been complaining about the new coins since the series started last year.
The U.S. Mint has been releasing gold-colored dollars honoring each non-living U.S. president. Four coins are released per year. The first four coins, honoring George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were issued in 2007.
Under a mandate from Congress, the Mint was required to place the national mottos “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum” along the edge of the coins. The idea was to allow for more dramatic portraits on the obverses of the coins and better art elements on the reverses.
But many in the Religious Right went ballistic after a batch of coins was inadvertently produced without the mottos on the edge. They also complained that the words were hard to read and that they would wear off over time.
Officials at the Mint say the dies for the 2008 coins, which honor James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, have already been produced, so the change will not be visible until the 2009 series is produced. Those coins will honor William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor.
Although there was never any evidence that the Mint was considering removing the motto, many Religious Right activists insisted that relegating “In God We Trust” to the edge of the coins was some kind of nefarious plot to ditch the phrase altogether.
“I certainly can’t imagine growing up in a country and under a government that is atheistic and denies the existence and dependence upon God,” said Dave Stotts, who hosts a program for Focus on the Family called “Drive Thru History.”
Stotts and other motto boosters fail to note that the phrase did not appear on coins until 1864. The motto was stamped on coinage after a Pennsylvania pastor suggested it to the Mint, arguing that the Civil War was a punishment from God.
The phrase was removed from coins briefly during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt when new coins were designed. Its use was not mandated on paper currency until 1957, one year after Congress declared “In God We Trust” the national motto.