Home > Uncategorized > What Should Our Motto Be? “In God We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum”? Our Times Today Call for the Latter

What Should Our Motto Be? “In God We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum”? Our Times Today Call for the Latter

June 1, 2018

I read with dismay that the Louisiana Legislature just passed a law mandating that the public schools in that state display the national motto, “In God We Trust”. Additionally, as reported by Wilborn P. Nobles III in the New Orleans Times Picayune, the law also requires Louisiana’s social studies curriculum to teach students about the motto by the 5th grade, a provision that expands upon the existing law that orders schools to teach students about the U.S flag and other “patriotic customs.”

I am dismayed to read about this legislation because Louisiana is one of several states who have failed to provide equitable or sufficient funding for schools. And they are one of many states whose legislators seem to think that their neglect to fund schools does not contribute to the problems in our society today. And because the word “God” appears in the motto it received bi-partisan support.

When the law was initially proposed to Louisiana’s senators in March, State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, stressed it would help address “moral decay” in the public school system. She later told lawmakers she believes “this will serve to be an improvement to our schools” because they cannot assume students learn about the “patriotic history and founding of this country” when students are at home.

The bill also received bi-partisan support because it costs next to nothing. Indeed, as the law is written a scrawled pencil notation on a piece of paper will suffice:

Louisiana’s Legislative Fiscal Office stated in a fiscal note attached to the law that local school districts will not experience a “material impact” in expenses under this law. Although the schools are free to choose how they want to display the motto, the law states the minimum requirement of display can be a paper sign.

But I am especially dismayed because the legislators neglected to adopt the TRUE national motto, which is “e pluribus unum”. As described in this (presumably) unpatriotic essay by DePaul professor Thomas A. Foster written following the debate at the national level about the national motto, “In God We Trust” was NOT the original motto of our nation. Instead, “E Pluribus Unum” (from many, one), was the de facto motto adopted by the Founding Fathers who specifically eschewed any mention of “God”. I offer this extended except from Mr. Foster’s essay to explain the origins of the de facto motto:

In July 1776, almost immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were tasked with designing a seal and motto for the new nation. In August John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that he had proposed the “Choice of Hercules” as the image for the seal. Adams believed that individuals should choose to lead moral personal lives and to devote themselves to civic duty, and he preferred a secular allegory for that moral lesson.

The other two committee members proposed images that drew on Old Testament teachings, but neither shared the beliefs of those today who assert the role of God in our national government. Benjamin Franklin, a deist who did not believe in the divinity of Christ, proposed “Moses lifting up his Wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his Chariot overwhelmed with the Waters.” This motto he believed, captured the principle that “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

Thomas Jefferson, who later created his own Bible by cutting out all mentions of the miracles of Jesus Christ (as well as his divine birth and resurrection), envisioned “The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, and on the other Side Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon Chiefs, from whom We claim the Honour of being descended and whose Political Principles and Form of Government We have assumed.” Of all of his accomplishments, Jefferson selected just three for his tombstone, one of which was writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which established a separation of church and state.

The three men worked in consultation with an artist, Eugène Pierre Du Simitière, who rejected all of the ideas of the three committee members. His own first attempt was also rejected by Congress. It would take years and several more committees before Congress would approve the final design, still in use today, of an American bald eagle clutching thirteen arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other.

Only the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) survived from the committee on which Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin had served. All had agreed on that motto from the beginning.

So where did “In God We Trust” come from? As Mr. Foster indicates, it’s origins came decades after the Founding Fathers:

The current motto, “In God We Trust,” was developed by a later generation. It was used on some coinage at the height of religious fervor during the upheaval of the Civil War.

It was made the official national motto in 1956, at the height of the Cold War, to signal opposition to the feared secularizing ideology of communism.

In other words, “In God We Trust” is a legacy of founders, but not the founders of the nation. As the official national motto, it is a legacy of the founders of modern American conservatism — a legacy reaffirmed by the current Congress.

At a time when our country is being divided over immigration, taxation, race, and support for public education (aka “government schools”) it would be far better for legislatures to require public schools to display the de facto motto: E Pluribus Unum. But given the temper of the times, I doubt any legislature could agree on its adoption.

 

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