Monday, April 27, 2015

Does The National Motto Equal Establishment?


McDowell County in North Carolina recently approved the addition of “In God We Trust” signs to public buildings such as the county courthouse. This was a unanimous decision made by the county’s Board of Commissioners, and chairman David Walker stated, "we did this to reaffirm what our Founding Fathers affirmed and that is our national motto is 'In God We Trust.'" The addition of these signs is to be paid for by private donations rather than taking the money out of taxes.
The issue here is that some find this to be a breach of the Establishment Clause because it signifies government endorsement of religion. Not only this, but also that the government may favor religious persons, or those who worship only one deity, over those who are not religious. Many county residents find this to be a necessary improvement to the area while others see this as a clear breakdown of the separation between church and state.
I believe that putting these signs on public county buildings is completely constitutional. The strongest piece of evidence to support this is the fact that the money is not coming from public tax dollars, but instead private donations will be funding this operation. With this being said, I do not believe that it could be seen as establishment because the public is not providing the payment. In addition, ‘In God We Trust’ is the national motto of this country. It is written on our currency and has historically been a highly very prominent and publicized saying. I do not see any difference between having the motto on our money compared to having it on buildings, especially when the public is not even funding it. This is not establishment and is entirely constitutional.
This case reminded me of Van Orden v. Perry where the court decided that it was constitutional to have a monument with the Ten Commandments on the lawn of the state capitol building. It was stated that the Commandments are historically significant, and that the presence of this monument does not automatically mean that the government is endorsing religion. I fully agree with the court’s decision in this case because our country was largely built with a religious backbone and it is constitutional to highlight this fact through the use of historical monuments. Likewise, ‘In God We Trust’ has been on US currency since 1864 and became our national motto in 1956. The phrase is historically significant and an important aspect of our country; it is constitutional and has a historical purpose to portray it on public buildings.
Issues such as this are important to highlight because some people are uncomfortable with breaching the wall of separation between church and state. However, it is important to realize that a simple saying, in this case our national motto, being shown on a public building does not automatically equal government establishment. Religious sayings are said in public schools and courtrooms every day; this is no different.
Overall, I believe that the posting of ‘In God We Trust’ on public county buildings is entirely constitutional because it has historical significance being our national motto along with the fact that the public is not being asked to fund it. I think if the money for this operation were to be taken out of tax dollars the issue would be a bit more complicated, but that is not a relevant issue for this case.
What do you think? Is the posting of our national motto on public buildings establishment? Could this lead to a slippery slope of other sayings being posted? Does historical significance matter?

8 comments:

Mackenzie Y said...

In this case, I believe that the historical justifications of posting the nation's motto on a public building are sufficient to rule this act as constitutional. "In God We Trust" is a prominent phrase in American history. I agree with the author's use of Van Orden v. Perry to support the arguments in this case. I do not think that this could cause a slippery slope. Our nation has one motto and this is the motto that McDowell County has chosen to display.

Liz E said...

I have a hard time deciding upon my opinion for this particular case. At first glance, it seems blatantly unconstitutional to have a phrase endorsing religion on a symbolic and literal place of government and justice. The courts should not be contemplating religion or a trust in God when deciding upon state matters. That being said, I do understand the historical significance that this phrase has for our country. I do not believe that "In God We Trust" should be seen as our country's motto, and I certainly don't believe it should be printed on our money, but I suppose that is beside the point. While I can't come to a firm conclusion on this case, I can say that it is important to note that tax payer dollars are not going towards funding these signs.

Kristen B. said...

I believe that putting "In God We Trust" on a public is constitutional and not an establishment of religion. "In God We Trust" has become a symbolic and unifying phrase in our country. The most important reason for me why I find this constitutional is because it is privately funded.

Molly H. said...

I have to agree with Mackenzie that, because of the fact that this is and has been our nation's motto for decades, and the particular "historical justifications" of these words being displayed on public buildings are in fact, constitutional. Granted, this does create a slippery slope, but if we were to ban the motto "In God We Trust" we would be ridding our country of a large amount of it's history. "In God We Trust" symbolizes the cry for freedom made by our soldiers decades ago and continues to symbolize the independence of our nation. The motto does not symbolize any establishment of a particular religion.

Emily C. said...

The fact that the motto's placement on the building is privately funded is relevant, but cannot be the sole factor in determining constitutionality because the motto is being placed on a public, government building. I agree with Libby's reference to Van Orden v. Perry and with her conclusion that "In God We Trust" is just as historically relevant to this country as--if not more than--the 10 Commandments. If there is any question that the placement of the nation's motto on a county courthouse constitutes establishment of religion, then the motto itself needs to be questioned for its establishment of religion.

Tommy S said...

I am not a fan of having "In God We Trust" as our national motto and on our money. Still, I have a hard time deciding if I think it is constitutional or not but I understand the historical argument. Furthermore, the Supreme Court seems to believe that this phrase is constitutional so it seems that it would be consistent for them to allow this phrase to be placed on the building.

Sam Cohen said...

The motto "In God We Trust" may be a phrase that is significant in our country's history and traditions, as a couple other students have pointed out, but I question how a country that prides itself on its religious tolerance and diversity could use as its motto a phrase that is relevant to some religions but not all, with the majority religion in our country falling in the "some" category. I agree with Libby that if private donations are used to promote some religious message or idea, then there is no issue, but that is only when those private donations are funding a private message. This case is not about economics or money, though. This case is about the government inherently placing some religions over others by placing a message that some religions can relate to but others disagree with, either by not believing in just one God or not believing in God at all. Why can't our motto be something that is inclusive to all religions, such as "liberty is great" or "the land of the free"? I find it unconstitutional and even ironic that the message of a country that prides itself on separation of church and state has to do with religion and (one) God. Thus, I hold the same feelings in this case.

Trevor T said...

I believe that as mention in a previous case we looked at the motto "In God We Trust" has been removed from having any significant religious affiliation and is primarily an example of American identity and history. The motto doesn't violate any measure of the lemon test and by no means is linked with establishment. No one is endorsing religion, i suppose i could acknowledge the argument that it favors religion over non-religion, but in this case i feel as though it is such a broad and general blanket statement that it doesn't attempt to compel anyone, rather just a part of history that would be hard to part with hundreds of years later that has no real religious significance.