Republican Rick Saccone, who represents parts of Allegheny and Washington counties, said the bill he’s sponsoring would celebrate the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Mint printing the motto on American currency.
Saccone also said former Pennsylvania Gov. James Pollock suggested the motto to President Abraham Lincoln, with whom he’d shared a boarding house when both men were freshman congressmen, after he was appointed director of the U.S. Mint.
“Pollock suggested we put ‘In God we trust’ on the coins,” Saccone said. “The treasury secretary and Abe agreed, and Congress agreed, so it became law to put that on our coins in 1864.”
According to the U.S. Treasury, it was another Pennsylvanian, the Rev. M. R. Watkinson, who suggested a religious-themed motto, to “relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism,” and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase directed Pollock to come up with one that reflected Americans’ “trust in God.”
The eventual phrase apparently originated in one of the less-frequently sung verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written during the War of 1812 and named as the U.S. national anthem by a 1931 congressional resolution.
Saccone admitted the law would likely be challenged in court, but he wasn’t worried it’d be struck down.
“It’s already settled that that is acceptable,” Saccone said. “It is our national motto by law, passed by Congress — unanimously by the way — signed into law by President Eisenhower, and reaffirmed by several Congresses after that. People will challenge anything, but we should celebrate it. It’s already been upheld.”
The bill would require public schools to display the motto but doesn’t list any consequences for schools that don’t comply.
As atheist activist and scientist Richard Dawkins noted in a recent interview, the motto is frequently cited as proof that the U.S. is a Christian nation.
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