Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, based in the nation’s capital, contends there is widespread misunderstanding and confusion about the central place of belief in Almighty God to maintain the strength and durability of the American political, social and economic systems.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has been a national leader of efforts to clarify that “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States. The sixtieth anniversary of that designation has taken on momentum through the efforts of the congressional prayer caucus, and various state prayer organizations, including in Oklahoma. Recent successes include proclamations signed by Governors. Susan Martinez (New Mexico), Matt Bevin (Kentucky) and Rick Scott (Florida).
In recent years, the U.S. Congress has overwhelmingly supported the phrase as the national motto. In late July, Sen. Lankford said in a prepared statement, “Our national motto is a powerful declaration that reflects the unique founding of America,” said Lankford. “It is important that we honor this motto, because it honors the birth of our great nation. I’m grateful that our country’s start was rooted in the belief that there is something bigger than ourselves.”
Lankford presently serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, the other chairman for the caucus, said in a House floor speech this summer, “America adopted ‘In God We Trust’ as our official national motto. Throughout our history as a nation, we have at times struggled to find the right words in times of crisis or of great challenge. Today, as we witness a divided nation, a nation polarized in almost every area, let us hope we once again find the right words in the simple but powerful phrase, our national motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ ”
It was Rep. Forbes’ House Concurrent Resolution 13 that passed Congress in 2011, reaffirming the motto. For his efforts supporting rights of religious expression for U.S. military service members, Forbes was presented the “Torchbearer” Award this summer.
That designation came from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. The alliance, according to a press release, “is an organization of chaplain endorsers, the faith groups that provide chaplains for the U.S. military and other agencies needing chaplains. The endorsers in the Chaplain Alliance represent more than 2,600 chaplains serving the Armed Forces.
In addition to Lankford, U.S. Rep. James Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, and Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, are members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus (http://forbes.house.gov/pages/congressional-prayer-caucus.htm).
Here in Oklahoma, state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, led efforts to pass House Resolution 1063, which sailed through the state Legislature on voice votes during the spring 2016 session.
According to the Congressional Prayer Caucus, the measure aimed to reflect “that religious freedom is the cornerstone of a free society and reinforces that America’s identity was birthed from these powerful words, ‘In God We Trust’.”
Kern is leaving the Legislature at the end of this year. In an exchange with CapitolBeatOK, she said, "I wanted to introduce the 'In God We Trust' resolution because our nation needs to return to the faith of our Founding Fathers who trusted in God to lead and guide them in the establishment of our nation. Unfortunately, many today do not know our true history and how faith in God influenced them."
Her co-sponsors for H.R. 1063 were members of both parties, including House Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City, and Democratic Reps. Donnie Condit of McAlester, Eric Proctor of Tulsa, Ben Sherrer of Choteau, Chuck Hoskin of Vinita, and Wade Rousselot of Okay.
State Rep. Lee Denny, R-Chickasha, the House Speaker Pro Tempore, was also a co-sponsor. Other Republican co-sponsors for H.R. 1963 were Reps. David Derby of Owasso, Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow, Ann Coody of Lawton, George Faught of Muskogee, Leslie Osborn of Mustang, Chuck Strohm of Jenks, Lisa Billy of Lindsay, David Brumbaugh of Broken Arrow, Lewis Moore of Arcadia, Marian Cooksey of Edmond, Dennis Johnson of Duncan, John Bennett of Sallisaw, Harold Wright of Weatherford, Paul Wesselhoft of Moore, Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, Pam Peterson of Tulsa, Tom Newell of Seminole, Dan Fisher of El Reno, Sean Roberts of Hominy, and Randy Grau of Edmond.
President Barack Obama has in the past criticized members of Congress for underscoring the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto, asserting the motto is E Pluribus, Unum (“From Many, One”). At this year’s Democratic National Convention, presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also referenced the phrase (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/06/13/hillary-clinton-calls-for-unity-resolve-to-combat-terrorism/) with no reference to the official motto.
That Latin phrase is properly described as a (not the) motto of the American nation. It was incorporated onto the Great Seal of the United States, along with the Latin phrases Novus Ordo Seculorum (“A New Order for the Ages”) and Annuit Coeptis (He approves of the undertakings). E Pluribus Unum has long appeared on metal coinage.
“In God We Trust” was long popular as a representation of national sentiment, and a version of it it (“In God is our trust”) is a central phrase in the fourth stanza of Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Key’s poem ultimately became the national anthem. The phrase took on official status during the Civil War, when it was added to national print currency.
However, it was in 1956 that President Dwight David Eisenhower supported efforts to declare “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States of America. Congress passed Public Law 84-140 and “Ike” signed it into law on July 30, 1956.
Two years earlier (on Flag Day, June 14, 1954) Eisenhower affixed his signature to legislation resulting from a national drive organized by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9920).