One Nation, Indivisible
One remarkable aspect of the great experiment of American democracy is that we were founded on a strict and explicit separation of church and state. At every opportunity, our founders made it clear America was intended to be a secular and pluralistic nation. In a unanimous vote, the Congress even affirmed in the Treaty of Tripoli (1797) that the “United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Unfortunately, many of the current symbols, memorials, and mottos displayed fail to reflect the secular foundation of our country.

The National Motto
It’s important to note that in 1782, the first motto that appeared on currency was the completely secular “E Pluribus Unum” which means “out of many, one.” In “God We Trust” didn’t appear on U.S. coins until 1864, at the height of the Civil War. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt tried to get the phrase removed because he thought it was “vulgar” to brand our money with religious symbols. It wasn’t until 1955, at the height of the Cold War, that “In God We Trust” was added to all U.S. currency because it would distinguish us from “imperialistic and materialistic communism.”  A year later, the same Congress made it the official motto of the United States.

The phrase “In God We Trust” is a relic of the Red Scare — an anachronism that harkens back to some of the darkest days in American history. The United States should return to its original motto of E Pluribus Unum, which better reflects both our country’s ideals and its current religious diversity.

The Pledge of Allegiance
Similar to our national motto, the words “under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954, during a period of heightened Cold War tensions.  Every day in public schools across the country, students are led to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which contains an explicit statement declaring the existence of a God. While nontheist and polytheistic students are free to not participate, most would understandably feel a powerful social pressure to recite the pledge with their peers. All students should have an equal opportunity to participate in a patriotic exercise without reciting words that go against their conscience. We should remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and send a powerful message to students across the country that the United States is “one nation, indivisible.”

Memorials and Monuments
The United States is crisscrossed with monuments and memorials that commemorate important moments in our nation’s history and honor those who sacrificed for it. Unfortunately, some of the monuments convey explicitly religious messages all while being displayed on public property and maintained using taxpayer money. Examples include the Ten Commandments Monument once displayed at Alabama’s state capitol and the 40-foot “Peace Cross” in Bladensburg, Maryland. Both of these monuments are explicitly religious and, as the courts have affirmed, send an unmistakable and inappropriate message of endorsement.

Public spaces including courthouses, state capitols, and schools are places where we communities should come together, not be divided along religious lines. Religious displays on public property endorse one religious worldview at the expense of religious minorities and nontheists. For this reason, the Secular Coalition for America lawmakers at every level of government to keep our public spaces inclusive and welcoming to all.