Just Above Sunset Archives

September 21, 2003 Mail

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)

I do send out some odd email, and receive equally odd email in return.  Here I will print some of it, with, now and then, my responses.   Before I post anyone's writing, I will ask your permission to post your comments and whether I should use your name or not, or use an alias you wish to use.
Chain letter - "If you haven't accepted Jesus as your personal savior and decided to follow Christ, well, sit down and shut up!  And don't be offended."

We all get those emails that say "read this and pass it on."  Usually it's something everyone should join, or if you send it along good luck will come your way.  Sometimes it is the start of a grass roots movement.  Here's one I got this week.
You may have heard in the news that a couple of Post Offices in Texas have been forced to take down small posters that say "IN GOD WE TRUST."  The law, they say, is being violated.  It is something silly about electioneering posters (is God running for office)?
Anyway, I heard proposed on a radio station show, that we all write "IN GOD WE 'TRUST" on the back of all our mail.  After all, that is our national motto, and it's on all the money we use to buy those stamps. I think it is a wonderful idea.
We must take back our nation from all the people who think that anything that offends them should be removed.
If you like this idea, please pass it on and DO IT.  The idea of writing or stamping "IN GOD WE TRUST" on our envelopes sounds good to me.  I'M HAVING MY STAMP MADE TODAY!
It has been reported that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a mess about having "In God We Trust on our money and having God in the pledge of Allegiance.
Could it be that we just need to take action and tell the 14% to sit down and shut up?
If you agree, pass this on, if not, go ahead and delete!
Well, I sent my friend a response:
Don't think I'll get into this.  When "In God We Trust" was added to our currency in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, he opposed it - something to with demeaning and cheapening his religion, as he said at the time.  He saw his religion as a personal matter - and it seems he saw it as an "insult to God" to slap His name on the coinage.  Theodore Roosevelt actually said so.  You could look it up.  But maybe he didn't really mean it.
When "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, in the Eisenhower administration (1954), that was a way to differentiate us from those godless communists who thought religion was something that kept people oppressed.  I guess we showed them.  Yep, just like we showed the French what moral courage was all about when the House cafeteria renamed those potato grease sticks "Freedom Fries."
If you get your jollies from labels and mottos, well, knock yourself out.  Harmless enough.
And yep, you can tell those who don't believe in God to just shut up. 
That would cover the atheists, and the Buddhists and Hindu folks (those are ethical systems without a supreme being), and would of course cover the Confucius followers and the Shinto folks, for the same reason.  Tell them to shut up.  No one wants to hear them.  This is our country.  What are they doing here?
Who else do you want to shut up?  There are three major religions that claim to have been handed down from Abraham, that fellow who agreed to sacrifice his son until God said, "just kidding" - and that would be Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  All three claim that.  Lots of folks on the Christian right would like those who follow Allah to just shut up.  Some feel that way about the Jews.  Hell, I feel that way about Wayne Newton.
I guess Bill O'Reilly knows how real Americans now deal with what others say, when what others say offends them - see September 1, 2003 Opinion for a partial list of the many times he has told folks to just shut up.  If he's your rôle mode, well I get it.
Or one might think of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, and his famous book about, among other things, the middle east and those fanatical Islam folks - The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  In it you will find this: "An opinion can be argued with; a conviction is best shot."
But I know you're not suggesting that.  You have your convictions, and others have their own.  You'd settle for these others sitting down and shutting up.
All this is a matter of how you'd like public discourse here to proceed.  It seems we differ.
I may be sarcastic about this, but the first president Bush did say, in an interview on August 27, 1987, "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.  This is one nation under God."
I am not particularly religious.  I know I am not at all welcome here and I should probably shut up.  Shutting up is the patriot thing to do.  Yeah, right.
Hey, if not being particularly religious means I am not welcome here, perhaps I can seek political and religious asylum in France.  I know it's a Roman Catholic country, but no one has taken that seriously there since end of the First World War.
Footnote: The details of our motto and the Pledge...
The regular use of "In God We Trust" on US coins did not begin until 1908, "In God We Trust" was not made an official motto of the United States until 1956, and the motto did not appear on paper money until 1957.

In contrast to the Declaration of Independence, and quite deliberately, the Constitution of the United States contains not a single reference to a deity or to divine inspiration. This was, of course, due to the founding fathers who saw in Europe, and elsewhere, the problems that had been created by the adoption of official religions in nearly all Old World countries.  Yet we frequently see the claim that the US was created and remains a Christian nation.

Around 1800, when church affiliation was perhaps 10% (some authorities say up to 17-20%) of the population, the motto on our coins, then the major medium of exchange, was often just "LIBERTY."
In 1776, Congress appointed John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to design a Great Seal for the new country. The motto they adopted for the Great Seal was E Pluribus Unum, meaning, "from many, one" or "one unity composed of many parts."
Although the design was rejected, the motto was adopted by the designers of the Great Seal and approved by Congress in 1782.  The motto was first used on coins of the United States mint in 1795, and both legends, that is, LIBERTY and E Pluribus Unum, were used somewhat regularly on coins throughout the nineteenth century.

By 1860 the proportion of church-related persons in the United States had slowly doubled or tripled to about 40% of the population, and during and following the Civil War, there was a spike in religious fever in America that built on a general feeling, fed by the clergy, that "the Civil War was God's punishment for omitting His name from the Constitution."
In 1863, eleven Protestant denominations banded together to petition the Congress to correct the oversight by the founders and "reform" the Constitution to indicate that the United States was created as and remained a Christian nation.  Thus, the so-called National Reform Association submitted the following additions to the preamble:
We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government, and in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the inalienable rights and the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves, our posterity, and all the people, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The "Christian amendment" never gained the approval of the Congress or of any of the states.  When introduced again in 1874 it never got out of committee. 
In the early 1860s, the NRA (not the gun people) had as members many prominent men including a Supreme Court Justice, William Strong, and two ex-governors of Pennsylvania, J.W. Geary and James Pollock.
The stated and well-known goal of the NRA was the creation of a Christian theocracy in the United States.  Although they were unsuccessful in their primary goal of amending the preamble, the organization lasted through the first half of the twentieth century and apparently still had registered lobbyists in the late 1950s.

President Lincoln had in 1861 appointed the NRA member James Pollock as Director of the Mint.  In November 1861, a Rev. Mark Richard Watkinson, pastor of a Baptist church in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase pointing out that the lack of "recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins" was a serious oversight by those responsible for the nation's coinage.  The pastor recommended that the Goddess of Liberty be replaced by a specified arrangement of 13 stars, the words "perpetual union," the all-seeing eye crowned with a halo, and a flag with the words "God, liberty, law" written within the folds of the bars.  "This," said Watkinson, "would make a beautiful coin to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the divine protection we have personally claimed...."

Obviously moved by the letter, Secretary Chase wrote a letter to his Director of the Mint, James Pollock:
Dear Sir:  No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in his defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing... this national recognition.
Pollock in 1863 submitted several designs to Chase that incorporated variations of the mottos "Our Trust is in God" and "God and Our Country."
Shortly after the designs were submitted in December 1863, Secretary Chase notified Pollock that the mottos were approved but suggested that they should be modified to place "Our God and Our Country" on one coin and "In God We Trust" on another.  In 1864 Congress agreed to this proposal by passing a law that contained the words, "...and the shape, mottoes, and devices of said coins shall be fixed by the director of the mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury."
The nation now officially recognized God as its protector through the agency of the United States mint.

The coinage act of 1864 did not specify the wording to be placed on the coins, and this fact opened the door to further problems as the act provided that the Secretary of the Treasury, acting on the advice of the Director of the Mint, could change the wording at any time.
So nothing much happened for decades.  The words appeared on the coins.  But the policy of using the words wasn't actually law - it was only policy.  Then Teddy Roosevelt came up with some new ideas.
President Theodore Roosevelt, whose term of office started in 1901, was a staunch admirer of the sculptor Saint-Gaudens, and he persuaded Treasury Secretary Shaw to commission Saint-Gaudens to provide new designs for the nations' coinage.  Saint-Gaudens, however, disapproved of the use of "In God We Trust" on coins for aesthetic reasons, and it turned out that Theodore Roosevelt also disapproved of the motto "In God We Trust" on coins, but for religious reasons, not aesthetic ones.  Roosevelt thought that having the "In God We Trust" motto on common coins that were abused in all sorts of manners was close to sacrilege.

When these views attacking the use of the inscription "In God We Trust" were made public, there was a huge public outcry, and the White House and members of Congress were deluged with protests and petitions from the religious sectors demanding the restoration of "In God We Trust" to the coinage.  Oops. 
Roosevelt notified the House and Senate leadership that he would "not veto" a bill specifying that "In God We Trust" be inscribed on all coins if it passed both houses.   He may have thought the idea was stupid, but he wasn't stupid.

A bill was indeed passed by the House in March and by the Senate in May of 1908; the bill became Public Law No. 120 when signed by Roosevelt on May 18, 1908. The law said in part, "Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the motto 'In God We Trust,' heretofore inscribed on certain denominations of gold and silver coins of the United States of America, shall hereafter be inscribed on all such gold and silver coins of said denominations as heretofore."

The extension of the use of the "In God We Trust" motto to paper money came about as paper currency more and more assumed the status of the principal medium of exchange in the country.
As the country had experienced over forty years of exposure to the motto on our coins without serious protest, in the late 1940s some religionists thought it was about time that the motto was placed on our paper currency - to thank the Lord for preserving us through the terrible war that had just ended [ignoring the fact that the German army had the motto "Gott mit Uns" (God with us) inscribed on their belt buckles].

In 1953, Matthew R. Rothert of Arkansas, president of the Arkansas Numismatic Society, presented the idea of putting "In God We Trust" on all paper money to a meeting of his group.  The favorable reaction by his audience prompted him to send a written proposal for such a change to Treasury Secretary Humphrey, but he also sent copies of the correspondence to Commerce Secretary Weeks and to President Eisenhower.
This single letter prompted the Eisenhower administration in June 1955 to recommend to Congress a bill (H.R. 619) that would "[provide] for the inscription of 'In God We Trust' on all United States currency and coins."  Introduced into the House, a representative from Florida characterized the object of the bill as, "...in these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom,..." a way to "...strengthen the foundations of our freedom. At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the desire of Americans to live by His will and His guidance. As long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail. To serve as a constant reminder of this truth, it is highly desirable that our currency and coins should bear these inspiring words '"In God We Trust.'"

Introduced in the middle of all those Cold War issues of the 1950s, this bill was quickly approved by the House and shortly thereafter by the Senate with pretty much no debate. The words "In God We Trust" have appeared on all United States currency issued after October 1, 1957.

Given how fast thus happened, Congressional forces, still energized by McCarthyism and anti-Communism thought it the opportune time to make the "In God We Trust" motto the "national motto."  Introduced on March 22, 1956, H.R. Res. 396 was quickly approved and signed into law on July 30, 1956 (36 U.S.C. Section 186).

And concerning the Pledge of Allegiance -
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to) the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
This pledge was issued by the executive committee at the dedication of the World's Fair Grounds in Chicago on October 21, 1892; subsequent research suggested that it was written by the Committee chairman, Francis Bellamy (United States Flag Association, 1939).
Originally consisting of 22 words, the word "to" was added immediately after the first celebration. The pledge was first revised at the First National Flag Conference in 1923 when the words "the Flag of the United States" were substituted for "my Flag," and the words "of America" were added to that phrase at the Second National Flag Conference in 1924.
Just an oddity - the United States is the only country in the world that pledges allegiance to a flag.
The pledge of allegiance did not, however, become the official Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag until Public Law 79-287 was signed on December 28, 1941 by President F.D. Roosevelt to prepare it for service in the war effort.

Nevertheless, the Pledge of Allegiance remained thoroughly secular, as demanded by the Constitution, for 62 years.
Then, in the early 1950s, as with the national motto, a group of religionists used the concerns of the cold war against "Godless" communism to remedy the lack of foresight of the writer of the pledge in omitting any reference to Christianity or, the next best thing, to God.  But this time it was a Roman Catholic organization that got the ball rolling when the Knights of Columbus began its campaign.

The Knights of Columbus had apparently in 1951 instituted their own version of the Pledge of Allegiance for use at their meetings that contained the words "under God."  Seeing that the time was right, they enlisted the cooperation of the American Legion in lobbying the Executive branch and the Congress to add "under God" to the pledge. President Eisenhower expressed support for the measure, and it was passed on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

Source for much of this -

Ralph C. Reynolds - president of the Rochester Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and StatePreserving the Wall, Vol. 3, No. 3, the newsletter of the Rochester Chapter.
I lived in Rochester, New York for most of the seventies.