‘In God We Trust’

“In God We Trust” is the newest states’ rights issue?

As a child, my grandfather gave me a very brief treatise on the Peter Principle that I’ve held onto the rest of my life: “Everyone is promoted to his highest level of incompetence.”

And that premise is never displayed in greater clarity than in the world of presidential politics. From Michael Dukakis’ “in the tank” and George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips” moments to Dr. Howard Dean’s “YEEEEAH!” it should be pretty clear that absurdity knows no bounds when the White House is on the line.

But, the introduction of the Tea Party movement into the political scene has been a bit of a game changer. Now, whenever a candidate wants to avoid answering what he or she perceives to be a tough question, he or she whips out the 10th Amendment.

“I believe that’s a states’ rights issue.”

Sometimes, it works — sort of — for the candidate, such as on healthcare and economic policies. Other times — such as in the cases of sanctity of marriage and personhood — it works not so well.

And, every once in a while, you have a 10th Amendment “epic fail.”

Last week, GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul, a member of the Texas delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, blasted a nearly unanimous vote by the House to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the nation’s motto. He was not present for the vote, which passed with only nine “No” votes, but had he been there, he told The Hill, he would have opposed it.

“I would have voted ‘no’ not because I don’t like the motto and don’t think we can use it, but ‘no’ because we were telling the states what to do,” Paul said.


The Hill’s reporting provides no additional insight into what Paul could have possibly meant. And, frankly, it’s rather difficult to even fathom how a national motto takes on 10th Amendment implications… it’s a motto, not even a mission statement.

A variant of the phrase was first adopted by Francis Scott Key when he wrote his poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry,” in 1814 that later became the lyrics to our National Anthem. The final verse of the song (how many of you knew there were four verses, not one?) goes like this:

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

“The Star Spangled Banner” became our National Anthem by an act of Congress on March 3, 1931. President Herbert Hoover signed it immediately into law. But, the song had been used by the U.S. Navy since 1889, and by the President of the United States since 1916.

“In God We Trust” began appearing on American money during the Civil War after U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase urged its use.

“No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense,” he said. “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”

The tussle about the motto went back and forth in Washington, D.C., for nearly 90 years before yet another act of Congress declared it our national motto. That law was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954.

The most common argument against the motto, however, has been on First Amendment grounds. Many have argued “In God We Trust” is a violation of the “establishment clause” that prevents Congress from making any law regarding the establishment of a national religion.

Yet, those arguments received a thorough beat-down, ironically enough by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that has since rekindled the debate on the national motto — in its 1970 ruling in the case of Aronow v. The United States. In the ruling, the court stated:

“It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.”

That, of course, begs the question: Where’s the 10th Amendment implication in all of this, Dr. Paul? His campaign has yet to expand on their candidate’s puzzling comment.