On July 30, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation1 establishing “In God We Trust” as America’s national motto.2 As religious rights of conscience continue to be attacked, this is a good time to remember our national motto and renew our efforts to defend our religious rights.
The idea of America as a Christian nation has often been scoffed at by modern academia,3 religious leaders,4 and others.5 However, past Americans have acknowledged that America is a Christian nation and that the rights of religious conscience should be protected.
The United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling declaring America to be a Christian nation,6 and hundreds of other American courts have acknowledged the same. In fact, Justice David Brewer, a member of that Court said:
[I]n what sense can [America] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. . . . Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. . . . Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world.7
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase,8 when looking into what should be printed on the currency of the nation, acknowledged:
No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.9
There are many reasons that America has long been seen as such an exceptional nation — but those reasons are tied to the religious beliefs and the moral principles of the people that established America. On the anniversary of the national motto, it’s appropriate to recognize these religious beliefs and moral principles.
As George Washington told the nation when he left the presidency:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens.10
1 “Joint Resolution to Establish a National Motto of the United States,” July 30, 1956, here.
2 “36 U.S. Code § 302 – National motto,” here.
3 Kevin M. Kruse, “A Chrsitian Nation? Since When?” The New York Times, March 14, 2015; Richard White, “One Nation Under Gods,” Boston Review, March 22, 2017.
4 David Vesely, “Is America a Christian Nation? Columbus’ Vision,” Green Bay Press Gazette, April 28, 2016.
5 Shane Idelman, “Is America a Christian Nation? Fact vs. Fiction,” Charisma News, August 14, 2015.
6 David Barton, “Is America a Christian Nation?” WallBuilders.
7 Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 143 U.S. 457 (1892).
8 David J. Brewer, The United States a Christian Nation (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1905), 12.
9 “Salmon P. Chase (1861-1864),” US Department of the Treasury, accessed November 14, 2023.
10 Salmon P. Chase to James Pollock, November 20, 1861, Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the Director of the Mint to the Secretary of the Treasury (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1897), 107.
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