To the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,
Normally our organization would be opposed to any government official using that phrase as part of their official speeches, but as they say, “context matters.” And boy does it matter here.
In your State of the Union you said:
Together, we are rediscovering the American way. In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. The motto is, “In God We Trust.”
Yes, you are correct, our motto is “In God We Trust” but as I said context matters. You have also added “faith” to this equation. You are equating being an American with trust in god and faith. You are implying to that to be a good citizen one must have faith or be religious in some way. And in that you are implying the phrase “In God We Trust” is a religious phrase.
You also say later in the speech,
“As long as we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will never fail.”
Again, context matters and the use of “our God” is an implication and allusion to the Christian God. You have made another claim that the god in our motto is referring to a Christian God, making the motto an implicitly religious phrase.
Now as for your speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. I think you went even further to prove that the current motto is a religious phrase.
“Our currency declares, ‘In God we trust,’ and we place our hands on our hearts as we recite the pledge of allegiance and proclaim we are one nation under God…That is why the words ‘Praise be to God’ are etched atop the Washington monument, and those same words are etched into the hearts of our people. So today we praise God for how truly blessed we are to be American.”
Well you certainly could not have made it much clearer what those supposedly “ceremonial” words really mean. It is apparent that you think that this phrase refers to the Christian God and you have made no bones about. That is what we like about you. You just get straight to the point and tell everyone like it really is. And, in this case, you did not disappoint.
Like I said, normally we would be opposed to such blatant usage of religious phrases in government speech, but you have provided us what many other politicians are able to avoid. Proof positive that the United States Government views and intends to use the phase “In God We Trust” as a religious statement.
But why does that matter, you ask. Well in the 1970 Aronow case the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the “ use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise” “ While ‘ceremonial’ and ‘patriotic’ may not be particularly apt words to describe the category of the national motto, it is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto has no theological or ritualistic impact. As stated by the Congressional report, it has ‘spiritual and psychological value’ and ‘inspirational quality”
The important point here is “, it is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto has no theological or ritualistic impact”
Based on just these two speeches, it becomes clear that this phrase no longer meets that criteria and should be ruled unconstitutional under the all three parts of the Lemon Test.
1. There is no secular legislative purpose to a religiously based and intended phrase
2. It is intended to advance the idea that the Christian faith is primary in the United States
3. It directly entangles government with religion by the promotion of an overtly religious phrase.
So again, thank you Mr. President for making our job here at the Original Motto Project a little easier.