On July 30, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law P. L. 84-140, which made “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. The motto had appeared on coins since the Civil War era, but now it would also be printed on paper currency.
Critics grumbled about the new motto stamped on their dollar bills. To them, the law was an unholy marriage between church and state. Eisenhower was raised religious and baptized as a Presbyterian in adulthood; his baptism took place one year into his first presidential term. He was devout, undoubtedly, though any sober-minded person would conclude that he never acted like a zealot.
In fact, his decision to make “In God We Trust” our national motto had nothing to do with forcing his own flavor of Christianity upon the citizens of the United States. Rather, it was to foster a sense of spirituality and transcendence that had been lost after the carnage of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bombs.
On Flag Day in 1954, Eisenhower delivered a speech addressing the new phrase he had added lawfully to the Pledge to the Flag. The phrase was: “Under God”.
Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.
In 2020, there are political tribes and vocal ideological minorities such as Black Lives Matter and the illiberal Catholic Integralists who want to force their ethics onto their fellow citizens in a despotic fashion. Eisenhower’s spiritual wisdom offers a timely viewpoint that resists this grotesque ‘tyranny of the minority’.
It was also wisdom shared by the great pamphleteer and patriot Thomas Paine. Writing in the Age of Reason, Paine articulates a sentiment similar to Eisenhower’s:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. . . . I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy. . . . I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.