In (Politically Motivated) Piety They Trust: U.S. House Approves Motto Resolution

Simon Brown
No country needs three mottos (or even one), and clarifying which of the three is the “true” motto seems petty right now.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to approve H. Con. Res. 13, which reaffirms “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encourages the display of that motto in public schools and other government buildings. 

The vote was pretty one sided: 396 representatives voted in favor, 9 voted against, 2 voted “present” and 26 did not vote. While Americans United is disappointed that the House chose to pass a resolution that excludes or offends many citizens (not to mention violating the spirit of the Constitution), we are happy to see that some members voted “no.”

The “no” votes came from Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.).

Nadler was the lone voice of dissent to speak on the House floor ahead of the vote.

“Today we are returning to irrelevant issues that do nothing to promote economic growth to put Americans back to work,” Nadler said. “We’ve seen this before. In the 107th Congress, we passed a bill to reaffirm the phrase ‘one nation under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and reaffirm the national motto. We went so far as to reenact into law word for word the existing law making ‘In God We Trust’ the national motto, just to be sure. No one had threatened it. No one had said ‘it’s not the national motto.’

"This resolution today, which has no force of law, simply restates the national motto once again," Nadler noted. "Why have my Republican friends returned to an irrelevant agenda? Why are we debating non-binding resolutions about the national motto? The American people are demanding action on the president’s jobs legislation. And yet here we are back to irrelevant issue debates, the kind of thing people do when they have run out of ideas."

Following the vote, Scott issued a statement in which he condemned the resolution as both a misplaced priority and an affront to the Constitution.

"Today,” he said, “we face the highest deficit in U.S. history; an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent and a growing number of people losing access to unemployment insurance each day; schools that lack the resources to give our students a proper education; 17.2 million households that are food insecure; and children who by the very circumstances of their birth are injected onto a cradle to prison pipeline. Instead of facing these challenges and creating jobs to help the American people make sure they have a roof over their head and food on their table, we are debating whether or not to affirm and proliferate a motto that was adopted in 1956 and is under no threat of attack.

“In addition to diverting attention away from substantive issues, the resolution is unconstitutional,” Scott continued. “When we were sworn in as members of Congress, we took an oath to uphold the Constitution. This resolution is inconsistent with that oath and therefore I voted 'no' on the resolution."

As the lone Republican to break ranks, Amash’s vote was the most surprising. He explained his decision on his Facebook page:

“The fear that unless ‘In God We Trust’ is displayed throughout the government, Americans will somehow lose their faith in God, is a dim view of the profound religious convictions many citizens have,” Amash said. “The faith that inspired many of the Founders of this country – the faith I practice – is stronger than that. Trying to score political points with unnecessary resolutions should not be Congress's priority.”

As Scott said and I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, “In God We Trust” did not become the “official” motto of the United States until 1956. When Congress chose to create that motto, it created confusion about other, much older mottos, such as E Pluribus Unum (“Out of Many, One”), which appears on the Great Seal of the United States, and Novus Ordo Seclorum (“A New Order of the Ages”), which is found on the dollar bill.

No country needs three mottos (or even one), and clarifying which of the three is the “true” motto seems petty right now. Beyond that, despite the intentions of the House, this vote settles nothing because the resolution is non-binding and it hasn’t been taken up by the U.S. Senate, President Obama or anyone else.

The best thing about this vote is that it’s over – maybe now Congress can get back to doing something important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>