This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a new effort from congressional Republicans to use the national motto as a weapon in their culture war. (via Barbara Morrill)

Republican Rep. John Kline is a sponsor of a resolution in the U.S. House that would reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto and encourages the posting of the motto on government buildings and in public schools. The resolution has raised the ire of secular groups who say the resolution is unnecessary and that it is discriminatory against non-believers as well as faithful Americans whose religious traditions do not involve a Judeo-Christian god.

The resolution reads in part, “Whereas the sentiment, ‘In God We Trust’, has been an integral part of United States society since its founding; Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured; Whereas in times of national challenge or tragedy, the people of the United States have turned to God as their source for sustenance, protection, wisdom, strength, and direction.”

Five weeks into the new Congress, House Republicans don’t have a jobs plan, but they have an “In God We Trust” plan that’s already picked up 30 co-sponsors.

The notion of Congress “reaffirming” the national motto is, to a certain extent, amusing on its own, at least as political wastes of time go. In effect, this part of the resolution is intended to say, “Just in case anyone forgot, the national motto is still the national motto.”

Also, Kline, a Minnesota Republican, made an odd claim in his resolution, arguing that “the sentiment, ‘In God We Trust’, has been an integral part of United States society since its founding.” That’s clearly wrong. The phrase makes no appearances in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or any of the Founding Fathers’ writings.

Early American leaders chose “E pluribus unum” as the motto on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782, and this was the country’s unofficial motto for nearly two centuries. That changed in 1956 when, as some kind of symbolic Cold War gesture, Congress chose “In God We Trust” as the official national motto. But given that the nation’s “founding” pre-dates 1956, the claim in the Republicans’ resolution is mistaken.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A school district in Texas received a Foreign Language Assistance Program grant to help teach students Arabic, and given the need for Arabic translators, these efforts are generally considered pretty important. But 200 local parents threw a fit — one said she was motivated because 9/11 “is hard to forget” — and district officials were forced to reverse course.

* There’s a renewed effort to create high-school clubs for atheists, spearheaded by the Secular Student Alliance, but it’s not going over well in some parts of the country, where some school administrators are trying to block the student-led clubs.

* A national survey of more than 900 public high school biology teachers found discouraging results: only 28% stick to evolutionary biology in class, 13% ignore the law and advocate creationism, and 60% “avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives.” (thanks to R.K. for the tip)

* The White House has named a new group of faith leaders to its advisory council on faith-based programs, including officials of prominent organizations, including the Episcopal Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the United Way. Critics noted the absence of Muslim or Hindu leaders, but the White House noted additional council members would be introduced soon. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

* And perhaps this week’s strangest TWIG item comes by way of Romania: “A month after the authorities began taxing Romania’s witches and fortunetellers on their trade, Parliament is considering a new bill that would subject them to fines or even prison if their predictions do not come true.” No, this is not from The Onion. (thanks to C.W. for the tip)