In God We Trust: the way forward in Arkansas

Back in April, the legislature of Arkansas enacted Act 911, which mandates that, if funds are made available through donations, the motto “” be displayed in public schools. In response, American Atheists wrote a letter to all 262 school district superintendents in Arkansas threatening litigation if they complied with the law.While we here at appreciate that American Atheists believes this to be an important issue, we do not think that threatening litigation is the way forward.

“In God We Trust” has withstood every legal challenge that has been thrown its way. Michael Newdow’s unsuccessful 2007 challenge is perhaps the most famous of these cases. In Newdow’s case, the 9th circuit court affirmed the ruling in an earlier legal challenge to the motto, Aronow v. United States, which held that “In God We Trust” was of “a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.” American Atheist’s threat to sue any district that complies with Act 911 is nothing more than an empty threat—they could sue, but they will not win.

At the Original Motto Project, we believe that the best way forward on this issue is not through litigation, but rather through compromise and community involvement. We have always proposed that the motto be displayed alongside “In God We Trust.” We believe this is a reasonable solution that satisfies everyone. To this end, the Original Motto Project is developing a poster that will meet the requirements of Act 911 that features E Pluribus Unum alongside “In God We Trust.” We will include a short history of both mottoes, creating a patriotic display helps preserve our complex history.

In Arkansas, we have several supporters of the project, both religious and nonreligious, ready to help implement our proposals. We believe that through reasonable, measured action and open dialogue, a compromise can be met that will satisfy all parties involved.

Thomas Essel

Thomas Essel is an outspoken secular activist and serves as Assistant Director for The Original Motto Project. Thomas also writes for the Patheos Atheist blog Danthropology and his work has appeared in the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact Thomas at: