A Brief History
On October 1, 1957, for the first time the phrase “In God We Trust” appeared on American paper currency. Although the phrase had appeared on American coins as early as 1864, it had only become the co-motto of the United States in 1956 (the other co-motto being “E Pluribus Unum”). The first bill to bear this pronouncement was the one dollar silver certificate, a move mandated by the passage of a congressional resolution on July 30, 1956 declaring this phrase as our national motto and further legislation ordering its inclusion on currency.
Apparently instigated by our Cold War with the atheistic Communists in the USSR and Red China, and although various groups advocating for the separation of church and state campaigned against such wording on our money, a 2003 poll found about 90% of Americans approved of the phrase on our coins and currency. In fact, 16 states currently offer license plates bearing this motto, and Georgia offers a decal that can be stuck on a license plate.
Not alone in the fervor to distinguish our capitalistic democracy from the Godless commies, the Pledge of Allegiance was also targeted for modification to acknowledge belief in God during the Fabulous Fifties, starting with a 1948 first appearance of the term by an Illinois chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Knights of Columbus Catholic society jumped on the bandwagon, and over the next several years the idea of modifying the Pledge of Allegiance to include those 2 words, “Under God,” took hold and people started campaigning for their politicians to make the change official. President Eisenhower became enamored of the idea and on June 14, 1954, with the President’s enthusiastic support the Pledge of Allegiance was amended to include “Under God” in its text by Congressional Resolution amending the Flag Code of 1942.
Conspiracy theorists speculate that corporate America was behind the changes to include the God references in order to lend a veneer of heavenly blessing to our capitalist system, but of course we have no way of proving or disproving that.
Either way, unless a Supreme Court ruling says otherwise someday, or if our Congress changes the law, our money and our Pledge of Allegiance will continue to refer to God, although courts have ruled against forcing school kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of this phrase. Still, one cannot help being exposed to the reference on our money, unless of course you live a cashless existence with a credit or debit card and checks!
Question for students (and subscribers): Should “In God We Trust” appear on American currency? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bishop, Ronald. Taking on the Pledge of Allegiance: The News Media and Michael Newdow’s Constitutional Challenge. State University of New York Press, 2007.
Ellis, Richard J. To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance. University Press of Kansas, 2005.
Jones, Jeffrey Owen and Peter Meyer. The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance. Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.