Church and State :: A History of Religious Intrusion into Government
We are a nation built and sustained by our cultural, political, religious and social diversity, which remains simultaneously our greatest strength and weakness. As a nation of immigrants we are not of one mind, not guided by one conscience and certainly not bound to one religion.
The phrase "One Nation Under God," despite previous efforts to make it so, was not a part the Pledge of Allegiance until the change in language was added in 1954. According to Wikipedia, the year before it was added, President Eisenhower had been baptized a Presbyterian. That same year, he sat in Abraham Lincoln's pew for pastor George MacPherson Docherty's sermon based on the Gettysburg Address.
The pastor said that " 'there was something missing in the pledge, and that which is missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life.' Pastor George convinced Eisenhower that 'Lincoln's words "under God" were the defining words that set the United States apart from other nations.' The next day Eisenhower acted on the suggestion and Representative Charles Oakman (R-Mich.), introduced a bill to that effect. Congress passed the necessary legislation and Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954."
In 1956 congress passed the act adopting "In God We Trust" as the nation's official motto. However, E pluribus unum (Out of many one) still appears in the national emblem of United States, on passports, official documents, the seals of the president, vice president, the House of Representatives, Senate and the Supreme Court. "In God We Trust" was also added to paper money from 1957 to 1966.
Thomas Jefferson addressed the separation of church and state, in a January 1, 1802 letter in which he wrote, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state." The First Amendment to our constitution was adopted in 1791 and states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
I personally do not practice any specific religion, but rather a code of conduct that comes from some inner sense of right and wrong. Grateful for my life and humbled by the very thought of my existence, my understanding of its wonders, let alone earth and the vast universe beyond, leave me in awe of just how minuscule a speck upon a speck of unimaginable smallness each of us is. It is in that sobering light that I have peered into our nation's historical beginnings as a democracy tolerant of differing religious convictions.
Balancing human diversity and behavior in ways that unite us as one people of common needs and causes maintains a healthy and sustainable democracy.
Still, the academic questions are: Were the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution devised as religious decrees to maintain the status quo, or to allow for the inevitable evolution of our democracy without regard to any specific religion?
Do our founding documents protect the inalienable rights of individuals to practice or not practice any religion? If so, does it follow that those who practice a specific religion have the right to preach or influence government to encourage civil prejudice and discrimination?
Has our nation's journey in democracy been to the benefit of all and detriment of none?
Author's note: There is not adequate time or space to quote from author Kerby Anderson's The Declaration and Constitution - Their Christian Root, but suffice it to say, this writing sheds light on the evolution of"In God We Trust."I highly recommend his short but enlightening work featured on probe.org