Michael Newdow announced recently that he intends to file a lawsuit to have the words "In God We Trust" removed from our money. In related news, the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a question of posting the motto on public buildings.
I have already written my core objections to having "In God We Trust" as our national motto. Those who are interested in the long argument can find it in the articles on my web site, "In God We Trust" and "We Means We".
The short version of that argument says that the motto effectively asserts that the principle that deserves the exalted status of national motto is the principle that national populations are to be divided up between a 'we' group who 'trusts in God', and a 'they' group who do not.
There is, in fact, a much more exalted principle that states that national populations are NOT to be divided up into groups of 'we' and 'they' based on religious beliefs. This "national motto" not only fails to deserve the status of most exalted principle; it identifies a principle that morally decent people would reject.
Prohibiting Mention of God
The notion that those who protest, "In God We Trust" are trying to outlaw any mention of God from public places is . . . well, it's an example of bearing false witness. No punishment is being proposed against any private citizen who mentions God, or reads a bible, or holds a prayer circle, in a public place. The prohibition is against the government -- the representative of all the people -- saying "Citizens who believe in God are better than those who do not." It is against the government saying, WE trust in God, THEY do not.
Because it is fundamentally wrong for the government to say that I and others who believe as I do, who are full American citizens and as such entitled to the equal respect and consideration of our government, are not good enough to be included in the category of "WE." The government ought not to state only those who trust in God are good enough to count as "WE".
When the founding fathers wrote, "We the People of the United States of America", they did not define "WE" to mean only those who trust in God. By "WE" they meant all citizens regardless of belief. A national motto of, "In God WE Trust" directly contradicts the principle that lies at the core of "WE the People of the United States."
Freedom of Religion
There are those who also argue that this protest violates the Christian's freedom of religion.
Using this line of reasoning, the following argument makes sense.
"The government, under the First Amendment requirement that it can pass no law abridging the freedom of religious expression, must recognize that witchcraft is a capital crime punishable by death. Our religion commands that we must not suffer a witch to live. If the U.S. Government forces us to suffer a witch to live, then the Government is allowing others (namely, witches and witch-lovers) to impose their religious views on us. We will not suffer a witch to live and, according to the Constitution, our right to freedom of religion means that the government cannot force us to suffer a witch to live."
The right to practice one's own religion ends where it interferes with the equal rights of others, such as the witch's right to life. It also ends where it interferes with the atheist's right to equal respect and consideration by its own government. It does not permit the Christian to burn witches, nor does it allow the Christian to promote government rituals saying, "Christian citizens are patriots, and rejecting Christianity is comparable to rebellion, tyranny, and injustice.”
The Anti-Christian Campaign
A third form of argument to be expected in this type of presentation is the argument that this posting is anti-Christian. It is no more anti-Christian than a posting about racial bigotry is anti-White. There is nothing inherently contradictory about a white who is opposed to racism, nor is there anything inherently contradictory about a Christian who has decided to promote and defend the principle that the state should not claim that some religious beliefs are better than others.
Again, we can imagine the witch in the previous section being branded anti-Christian simply because she protests being burned at the stake. We should also be able to recognize that those who would make such argument are more interested in using rhetoric to feed hatred than in the principles of truth and equality before the law.
The 'Blue Eye/Brown Eye' Experiment
The most serious wrong associated with a national motto of "In God WE Trust," and a daily ritual of pledging allegiance to the flag that, by including God, excludes those who do not believe in God, is the adverse psychological effect -- the actual harm -- that it does to the moral character of its citizens.
In 1968, after Martin Luther King was shot, third-grade teacher Jane Elliott came up with a way of demonstrating what prejudice was like to her students. She divided her students up into blue-eyed students and brown-eyed students. She then set up a class culture in which the brown-eyed students were considered special or better than the rest. In addition, they were given certain rights and privileges denied to blue-eyed students. Those blue-eyed students were cast as inferior 'second-class' citizens.
She reported that, the experiment resulted in an almost immediate psychological transformation in the students. Brown-eyed students began to bully and harass the blue-eyed students and seemed incapable of perceiving how their actions were wrong. At the same time, those students branded ‘inferior’ became passive and lost interest in trying to do tasks well in an environment where judgment was largely independent of how well they performed those tasks.
The type of culture that religious conservatives are fighting for in this country is substantially a blue-eye/brown-eye experiment on a national level. "In God We Trust" with its message that those who trust in God are members of the special “we” group while excluding those who do not, and "…one nation, under God …" which categorizes those who are not Christians with those who reject union, liberty, and justice, are a part of the mechanism for setting up a “blue eye/brown eye” (“we”/”they”) (“Christian/Non-Christian) culture.
One part of the class exercise was that brown-eyed students were given privileges and powers that blue-eyed students were prohibited from having, and blue-eyed students had to ask permission for things that brown-eyed students were given without question.
We can see that represented in events such as President Bush’s statement that only those who believe that our rights come from God will be appointed as judges. Thus, atheist citizens should be aware that the position of “judge” is not open to them under this system – they do not qualify. It is also represented by the fact that non-Christians are put on notice that any rights and freedoms that they do enjoy is only at the pleasure of their Christian legislators. “Your rights come from God”, they tell us. Which effectively means nothing less than, “Your rights are exactly those that we say you can have.”
If the behavior that these demonstrations bring out is duplicated in our national culture, we can expect the privileged class to view their special status as an entitlement. They will grow increasingly abusive over time and not even recognize the fact that they are doing it. To them, this would be an exercise of their “rights” – their “right” to dominate and control those who are not members of their special club.
Meanwhile, their victims will become more passive and subservient. Please note how African Americans continued to passively accept the requirement to sit at the back of the bus for decades before they finally had enough.
The Religious Right does not even make a secret of the fact that their objective is to take control of the government and its institutions, and to use it to impose their brand of religion on the nation as a whole. They now no longer hide their belief that it is their right to rule, and that all others have the duty to follow.
These are exactly the types of results that can be expected once a nation establishes itself as having two classes – a “WE” class who trusts in God and who are true patriots, and a “they” class who do not trust in God and whose beliefs are the equivalent to rejecting national union, liberty, and justice for all.