by Ken Paulson
It took 151 years, but “In God We Trust” has gone viral. The phrase, first placed on a U.S. coin in 1864, has become the message of choice for a growing number of law enforcement agencies across the country.
“There are all these news stories about Ferguson and Baltimore, and I have personally been in a firefight and when you come out of one of those, you know you’re trusting in God,” Nathan Stevens, police chief of Cave City, Ark., told KAIT television.Fueled by controversies over aggressive policing and seemingly random attacks on officers, dozens of departments have placed “In God We Trust” on patrol cars.
Despite our constitutional guarantee that government cannot promote a specific religion, the decals will remain. The reason: A 1970 federal court decision that came to the surprising conclusion that “In God We Trust” is not a religious expression.
“It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character,” the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in Aronow v. United States.
In truth, the addition of the phrase to currency and its elevation to national motto status had everything to do with religion.
“The motto ‘In God We Trust’ was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The phrase became a national motto in 1956 during the height of the Red Scare. In contrast to “Godless commies,” our government was determined to embrace God. The government also added the phrase to our paper money and even amended the Pledge of Allegiance to include “under God.”
The patrol car decals are indisputably inspired by religion.
“I’m never going to apologize for loving God, loving America and loving the principles this country was founded on,” Sheriff Travis Allen of Jefferson County, Ill., told KFVS TV.
“In God We Trust” has always been about faith, but the Aronow decision has given courts a handy precedent to conclude otherwise. For 45 years, courts have cited the decision as authority that “In God We Trust” has no religious meaning. Finding otherwise is a no-win for a judge.
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