Of Course 'In God We Trust' is Religious

If you believe Rick Saccone, the Pennsylvania lawmaker sponsoring a bill to erect “In God We Trust” signs in public schools, he doesn’t want to use the apparatus of government to proselytize his religious views: “This isn’t about evangelizing,” Saccone told reporters last week, insisting that the proposed signs aren’t an effort to endorse God-belief or invalidate nonbelievers.

If that’s so, one could reasonably question what purpose such signs would serve. A posted message affirming not just a belief in a God (whose existence, of course, can't be proved), but a collective trust in that God, would seem to serve few purposes other than to validate theism. But alas, this query was answered by none other than Fox News, which clarified the Republican legislator’s motivation, reporting as follows: “Saccone said the motto would fit well with the state’s local history curriculum.”

So there you have it—we need “In God We Trust” signs in public schools not because Saccone, a devout Christian, has any interest in promoting belief in God, but because he is earnestly concerned about history curricula. Interestingly, however, Saccone's strategy of promoting knowledge of history through religious messaging is not shared by actual educational experts, who instead suggest that history education is best furthered by peculiar practices like reading history books, watching informative documentaries, and reviewing other substantive materials. In fact, neither the American Historical Association nor the Society for History Education endorse “In God We Trust” signs as a means of instilling a comprehensive knowledge of history. But what would they know?

Saccone's fondness for religiously flavored history lessons is a recurring pattern, as we see from other efforts that he has led. For example, last year he was prime sponsor of a resolution to declare a “Year of the Bible,” a measure that alluded to history while expressly calling the Bible "the word of God" and urging "faith in God and holy scripture." He was also prime sponsor of another resolution to declare a day of fasting and prayer, again with historical references and express theistic language.

Saccone wryly suggests that such measures are “noncontroversial,” which is remarkable given the firestorm of protest that they have ignited (including, in the case of the Year of the Bible, a lawsuit), and he also insists that these proposals have nothing to do with promoting theism or discriminating against those millions of Americans who happen to hold non-theistic views.

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