Columnist discusses the need for separation of church and state.


I n July of 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower endorsed a law passed by the 84th Congress of the United States of America, that required the words “In God We Trust” to appear on all American currency. This was followed by Congress later passing legislation, also signed by President Eisenhower, declaring the phrase to be the national motto. This replaced the former de facto motto “E Pluribus Unum,” a Latin phrase meaning “one from many,” which stemmed from the American revolution and the coalition of the thirteen colonies into one nation.

The phrase “In God We Trust” originates from the 1814 poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key, the same poem that was used as the basis for the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The poem was written in response to the British invasion during the War of 1812. Key wrote “And this be our motto — ‘In God is our trust!’” in the final stanza.

National mottos are intended to represent a nation’s guiding principles and motivations. Despite this, the United States’ national motto is in direct contradiction to its constitution.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution contains two provisions concerning religion: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The two clauses, condensed into a singular sentence, state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

America does not have a national religion; however nearly 70% of Americans identify as Christian. This is a drastic decrease from as recently as the early 1990s, when about 90% of U.S. adults identified as Christians. Though the Church maintains a large presence, the prevalence of Christianity in American society has decreased significantly in the past few decades.

But that is not to say that America has truly achieved the division between church and state that the constitution advocates for.

47 states require the Pledge of Allegiance be recited in public schools. Students are offered exemptions that vary based on state, some more restrictive than others. Florida and Texas, for example, only allow for a student to be exempted from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with parental or guardian consent.

The pledge states, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I remember reciting the pledge in elementary school and wondering why I had to pledge my allegiance to a God I didn’t believe in. While I technically was not forced to
recite the pledge, I was an easy victim to peer pressure. So I covered my heart with my hand and pledged my allegiance to my nation, and to Him.

I currently identify as agnostic. For myself, I define that as someone who acknowledges the possibility of a higher power, but does not associate that power with an organized religion. Being agnostic in an overwhelmingly Christian country has made me hyper-aware of the religion that surrounds me, and its prominence in my everyday life.

Despite the claim that the State has separated itself from the Church, Christianity still has a large presence in America — hell, it’s engraved on all of the currency I own.

I’m not exactly a patriot. I understand the privilege I have as someone born in America; however, it is with that privilege that I am able to see both the strengths and the weaknesses of this country. Our First Amendment holds some of the most important values of our country, values that few other countries provide, yet we struggle to uphold them.

What is the point of including something in our Constitution if it is not enforced? Not only is that harmful to citizens, but it also undermines the power of the other values found in the constitution. While we are moving forward as a country, we are not nearly where we should be. Progress is difficult, but it’s necessary for the good of the people. While some trust in God, I trust in the capability of and the need for change.