11/05/2011 08:16 am ET | Updated Jan 05, 2012

'In God We Trust': Choosing Faith Over Freedom

Congress is at it again. Rather than focusing on the faltering economy or the wars our nation is engaged in, the House of Representatives recently passed a resolution which would reaffirm "In God We Trust" as our national motto. The President appropriately chastised the House, saying "That's not putting people back to work. I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people to work." It's bad enough that this resolution is a waste of precious legislative time, but the motto it recommends posting on public buildings is in direct opposition to our national tradition of secular governance and is a slap in the face to the many nontheistic Americans who object to government endorsement of religion.

By placing "In God We Trust" in public buildings, public schools and other government institutions, we weaken the wall of separation between church and state. Even though this motto doesn't favor one religion's god over another, it assumes that there is a god, and that there's only one. That excludes polytheistic Americans like Hindus, nontheistic Buddhists and the 16 percent of us with no religious affiliation. This kind of government sponsorship of religion runs afoul of the First Amendment and should be strongly rejected by our legislature and our judicial system. It is the sworn duty of the government to uphold the Constitution, and allowing this resolution to pass would be a direct violation of that obligation.

Placing such religious language on public buildings not only violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, it also ignores the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. By taking sides on this religious question, the government signals to the millions of non-religious Americans that they are second-class citizens and that secular Americans do not deserve to be considered eligible for equal consideration. The principle of equal protection is seriously threatened whenever the bulwark between church and state is breached, as our government takes an active part in the promotion of religiosity at the expense of secularism. What guarantees can the government make to the non-religious community about their freedom to not believe when the political institution that is tasked with securing that freedom engages in the promotion of religious belief?

Why not promote "E Pluribus Unum" (Out of Many, One) instead? This was the effective motto of the United States until "In God We Trust" was made official in 1956 as a result of the red scare and subsequent religious dominance of government during the McCarthy era. "Out of Many, One" is a phrase, unlike the one promoted in the House of Representatives, that speaks to our diversity and our unity as a nation. It respects the secular foundations of our country, and it doesn't violate the law of the land.

Religious Right activists continue to successfully push religion into government, as seen by our increasing dependence on Faith Based Organizations, the defense of adding "Under God" to our pledge, the influence of evangelical chaplains in our military, the federal funding of ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs and now the effort to post "In God We Trust" everywhere we look. This isn't simply the result of the actions of a few private citizens; rather, it is the product of a calculated crusade to promote religion through the government. Atheist and agnostic humanists, as well as concerned progressive people of faith will continue to challenge this divisive agenda. We recognize that America must remain committed to the secular foundations of this nation if it is to maintain its reputation as a land of freedom of equality for all under the law.