When students in Kentucky return to class in a few weeks, they will find the national motto “In God We Trust” prominently displayed on the school grounds.
To borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: It’s an “altogether fitting and proper” move by the Kentucky legislature to make this a requirement statewide.
A bill signed into law by GOP Gov. Matt Bevin in March lists potential spots for the motto to be placed, including school entryways, cafeterias or common areas where students are likely to see the words, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The legislation was originally filed by Republican Rep. Brandon Reed, a Christian minister.
“I really like for kids, when they go in, to see our national motto. So, when they go into the common area like the cafeteria or wherever inside the school, they can see that,” Reed told WHAS-TV last year.
There is no penalty if schools fail to comply; however, the local district could be sued by citizens for failing to do so.
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed similar legislation in March, as well, NPR reported.
In Kentucky, the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the law, claiming placement of the motto divides the state’s residents along religious lines and “distracts school officials from fulfilling their core mission” of educating students.
The Supreme Court would likely find the placement of the national motto in public schools passes constitutional muster.
Just last month, the court shot down atheist attorney Michael Newdow’s attempt to have “In God We Trust” removed from the nation’s currency.
The Supreme Court denied Newdow’s appeal and thereby upheld a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 8th Circuit opinion issued in August reads in part that Supreme Court previous case law offered an “unequivocal directive” on the matter of references to God by the government: “[T]he Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment] must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings.”
“The Supreme Court has long recognized the ‘unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789,’” the judges added.
In a series of tweets, Eric Rassbach — an attorney with the religious liberty group Becket, which submitted a brief in support of keeping the motto on the currency — heralded the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up Newdow’s appeal.
“Dr. Newdow wants to remove the National Motto from coins because he believes the phrase creates a ‘religious establishment’ — an official state church, like the one in England,” Rassbach tweeted.
“In God We Trust” first appeared on coins in 1864 during the Civil War, but it was not until 1956 that Congress passed a joint resolution declaring it the national motto, which President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law.
Two years earlier, Eisenhower — who was supreme allied commander in the European Theater during World War II — heard a sermon by a preacher that resulted in the words “under God” being added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Rev. George Docherty delivered the message in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, which had been attended by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
The minister homed in on the words “under God” in the Gettysburg Address, saying it is what separates the United States from totalitarian regimes around the world.
“Now, Lincoln was not being original in that phrase. He was simply reminding the people of the basis upon which the Nation won its freedom in its Declaration of Independence,” Docherty said in the sermon.
The Declaration references God four times to justify founding the United States, including the words “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the world,” and “divine Providence.”
In his sermon, Docherty acknowledged that atheists can be good citizens and neighbors, “But they really are spiritual parasites. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I’m simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other.”
“These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization, and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow,” Docherty said.
According to The Washington Post, Docherty knew it would take Eisenhower’s support as well as an act of Congress to insert the words “under God” into the pledge. He approached the president after the sermon and asked what he thought of the proposal.
Eisenhower told the preacher, “I agree entirely.”
A few months later, Congress passed and the president signed into law legislation adding “under God” to the pledge.
Eisenhower observed that millions of schoolchildren would from then on be reminded of our country’s “true meaning,” reaffirming “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future” and thereby “strengthen[ing] those spiritual weapons which will forever be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
What is true for the Pledge of Allegiance is equally valid for the national motto.
Other states should follow Kentucky and South Dakota’s lead, so students nationwide can be reminded of one of the most fundamental beliefs throughout U.S. history: “In God We Trust.”
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