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God, Trust and Cash

Grab a dollar bill out of your purse or wallet. What do you see? Well yes, there’s George Washington, stern look on his face, no doubt displeased about the state of our government in his namesake city. But the important message is on the other side of the dollar bill – “In God We Trust.” And I’m sure you can find a penny lying around at home. Abraham Lincoln doesn’t look any happier, but the coin carries the same inspiring words.

So how did all of this come about, you ask? On the other hand, maybe you didn’t even ask, but I’ll tell you anyway.

The motto (or at least a variation referring to God and Trust) was first placed on coins by the U.S. treasury in 1864. It was the height of the Civil War, a trying time for our nation that gave rise to increased religious sentiment. Then in 1955 Congress passed a bill to have the motto placed on paper currency. “In God We Trust” appeared on the bills two years later.

In 1956, Congress passed a resolution which was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower making “In God We Trust” the national motto replacing “e pluribus unum” (for those challenged by Latin, also known as the “dead language” it means “Out of many, one.”) To be fair, however, I must confess that more than five decades since my high school days I still get the shakes when I recall my Latin class, mercifully ending when the teacher suggested that I may want to switch to a different elective next semester…

We live in a diverse society, so it’s not surprising that not everyone is on board with the motto. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and 19 other plaintiffs last year filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury and other government officials claiming that they are discriminating against non-believers by including the phrase on the nation’s currency, although similar court challenges have failed. In 2011, a similar case made it all the way to the Supreme Court only to be rejected.

And we also live in a world of realists. I can still recall when in my previous life (translation: before retirement) as I traveled throughout southeastern Ohio in my work, I came across a workingman’s tavern that served pretty decent bar food, with a can’t-miss-type sign by the cash register: “In God We Trust, all others pay cash.”