Because Kentucky now has a law requiring public schools to post “In God We Trust” signs in every building, it’s created a chance for various school districts to respond to the irrational law in creative ways. I especially loved how the Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington posted the phrase… by putting up a framed picture of the back of a one dollar bill.
Hey, it fulfilled the legal requirements! It also infuriated conservatives, including Rep. Brandon Reed, the Christian evangelist who wrote the bill, but he could hardly complain. The district did what he asked. He’s just upset they did the very least instead of wearing extra flair. Another school, named after Abraham Lincoln, put up a picture of a penny. (Clever.)
Unfortunately, it now appears that Fayette County school officials are backing down a bit. They’ve altered their framed posters of a dollar bill to include a much longer history of why “In God We Trust” is the national motto.
Prior to 1956, the unofficial slogan of the United States was “E pluribus unum” (Latin for “Out of Many One”), which was adopted when the Second Confederation Congress created the Great Seal of the United States in 1782.
The historical association of the U.S. Treasury credits Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase with the development of the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ and its placement on U.S. coins beginning in 1864.
During the Cold War era, when the government of the United States sought to distinguish itself from the Soviet Union, a joint resolution of the 84th Congress in 1955 made ‘In God We Trust’ the official motto of our nation.
The resolution passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and without debate, determining that the most appropriate and enduring placement of the national motto was on all U.S. currency and coins. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the action into law on July 30, 1956.
That’s somewhat sanitized. The U.S. sought to distinguish itself from the “godless” Soviet Union by making a religious phrase the national motto. That’s the whole point. It’s religious, not patriotic. It’s a way to shove the Christian God on everyone. By leaving that part out, students aren’t getting the full story.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with giving students a fuller context of the motto, but the redesigned posters lack the subversiveness of the original image. It’s like telling a hilarious one-liner, then taking a few minutes to explain why the joke is funny. You don’t need to do it. In fact, you’re ruining it.
One person who likes the change is, not surprisingly, State Rep. Reed.
Reed said Thursday that he was “glad to learn that Fayette County Public Schools have reconsidered their display. The change is certainly more in keeping with our intent to foster pride and awareness of our national motto and its place in our nation’s history.”
If Reed likes it, then you know something’s wrong with it…
Brittany Pike, the atheist whose picture (seen above) brought the dollar bill picture to everyone’s attention, told me she doesn’t mind the change but preferred the original “because it doesn’t highlight any sort of religious context and felt more inclusive than this display.”
Samantha McGuire, the National Field Director for American Atheists, echoed that thought:
Though I personally preferred the dollar bill without comment, this display echoes the poster that American Atheists has been offering to schools and teachers in Kentucky. Our intent is also to provide context and historical accuracy to students to better understand the history of the current national motto. The original motto “E Pluribus Unum” was adopted by the Founding Fathers of our nation, who understood the dangers of theocracy. It is a shame that it was ever changed as a reactionary response to “godless communism” during the Cold War.
To be sure, I’d rather have this context than just see the phrase by itself. But when this district so brilliantly found a way to follow the law without giving an inch to the religious conservatives who called for it, it’s disappointing to see them caving in a bit. They had it right the first time.
(Featured image via Johnny Pike. Thanks to Brian for the link)