In God We Trust

"In God We Trust", also written as "In God we trust", is the official motto of the United States of America[1][2][3] and of the U.S. state of Florida. It was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1956, supplanting E pluribus unum, in use since the initial 1776 design of the Great Seal of the United States.[4]

The capitalized form "IN GOD WE TRUST" first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864[5] and has appeared on paper currency since 1957. A law passed in a Joint Resolution by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84–140) and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, requires that "In God We Trust" appear on American currency. The following year, the phrase was used on paper money for the first time—on the updated one-dollar silver certificate that entered circulation on October 1, 1957.[5] The 84th Congress later passed legislation (P.L. 84–851), also signed by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, declaring the phrase to be the national motto.[6][7][8]

Some groups and people have objected to its use, contending that its religious reference violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[9] These groups believe the phrase should be removed from currency and public property. In lawsuits, this argument has so far not overcome the interpretational doctrine of accommodationism, which allows government to endorse religious establishments as long as they are all treated equally.[10] According to a 2003 joint poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 90% of Americans support the inscription "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.[11]

In 2006, "In God We Trust" was designated as the motto of the U.S. state of Florida.[12][13]

The Spanish equivalent of "In God We Trust," En Dios Confiamos, is the motto of the Republic of Nicaragua.[14] The heraldic motto of Brighton, England is the Latin equivalent, In Deo Fidemus.[15]


The patriotic anthem Chester, composed by William Billings for his 1770 songbook The New England Psalm Singer and sung during the American Revolutionary War, has a similar phrase in its lyric:[17]

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav'ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.

In 1860, the phrase was used in the coat of arms of New Westminster, Canada. During the American Civil War, the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry for the Union Army assumed the motto "In God we trust" in early August 1862.[18][19][20] William W. Wallace, coiner, circa August 1862, of the motto "In God We Trust"[21] was Captain of Company C of the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry.

The Reverend Mark R. Watkinson of 'Ridleyville', Pennsylvania, (pastor of Prospect Hill Baptist Church in present-day Prospect Park, Pennsylvania) in a letter dated November 13, 1861, petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing "Almighty God in some form on our coins" in order to "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism".[22][23] At least part of the motivation was to declare that God was on the Union side of the Civil War.[24] Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase acted on this proposal and directed the then-Philadelphia Director of the Mint, James Pollock, to begin drawing up possible designs that would include the religious phrase. Chase chose his favorite designs and presented a proposal to Congress for the new designs in late 1863.[25]

In December 1863, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury decided on a new motto, "In God We Trust," to engrave on U.S. coins. Lincoln's involvement in this decision is unclear.[26]

A version of the motto made an early appearance on obverse side of the twenty dollar interest bearing note issued in 1864 along with the motto "God and our Right".

As Chase was preparing his recommendation to Congress, it was found that the Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States. This meant that the mint could make no changes without the enactment of additional legislation by the Congress. Such legislation was introduced and passed as the Coinage Act of 1864 on April 22, 1864, allowing the Secretary of the Treasury to authorize the inclusion of the phrase on one-cent and two-cent coins.[24]

An Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1865, allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary's approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that "shall admit the inscription thereon".[24][27] In 1873, Congress passed the Coinage Act, granting that the Secretary of the Treasury "may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto".

A similar phrase, 'In God is our Trust', appears in "The Star-Spangled Banner", the song adopted as the national anthem of the United States in 1931. Written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, the fourth stanza includes the words, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our Trust'".

After use of the motto on coins began during the 1860's, there have been some coins on which the motto did not appear. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938.[24] However, at least two other coins minted in every year in the interim still bore the motto, including the Morgan dollar and the Seated Liberty half dollar. The omission of the motto "In God We Trust" on the Indian Head eagle coin caused public outrage, and prompted Congress to pass a bill mandating its inclusion. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber added the words and made minor modifications to the design. In 1908, Congress made it mandatory that the phrase be printed on all coins upon which it had previously appeared. This decision was motivated after a public outcry following the release of a $20 coin which did not bear the motto.[28] The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908.[24] Since 1938, all US coins have borne the motto.[5]

During the Cold War era, the government of the United States sought to distinguish itself from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism and thus implemented antireligious legislation.[29] The 84th Congress passed a joint resolution "declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States". The resolution passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and without debate.[30][31] H.R. 619, a bill that required that the inscription "In God we trust" appear on all paper and coin currency, was signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.[32][33]. The United States Code at 36 U.S.C. § 302, now states: "'In God we trust' is the national motto."

On paper currency, it first appeared on the silver certificate in 1957, followed by other certificates. Federal Reserve Notes and United States Notes were circulated with the motto starting from 1964 to 1966, depending on the denomination.[24][34] (Of these, only Federal Reserve Notes are still circulated.)

Representative Charles Edward Bennett of Florida cited the Cold War when he introduced the bill in the House, saying "In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom". [35]

Aronow v. United States was the first case to challenge the inclusion of "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency.[36] The law it challenged was "31 U.S.C. § 324a "the inscription 'In God we Trust'...shall appear on all United States currency and coins".[36] O'Hair v. Blumenthal (1978) challenged the inclusion of the phrase "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency. A similar decision was reached by the Fifth Circuit in Madalyn Murray O'Hair vs W. Michael Blumenthal in 1979, which affirmed that the "primary purpose of the slogan was secular".[37]

In March 2001, Governor of Mississippi Ronnie Musgrove signed legislation requiring the motto "In God We Trust" to be displayed in every public school classroom, as well as the school auditoriums and cafeterias, throughout the state.[38][39]

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, many public schools across the United States posted "In God We Trust" framed posters in their "libraries, cafeterias and classrooms". The American Family Association supplied several 11-by-14-inch posters to school systems and vowed to defend any legal challenges to the displaying of the posters.[40]

According to a 2003 joint poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 90% of Americans support the inscription "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.[11]

In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of its adoption, the Senate reaffirmed "In God We Trust" as the official national motto of the United States of America.[41] In Florida House Bill no. 1145, Florida adopted 'In God We Trust' as the official state motto, effective July 1, 2006.[12][13]

In 2011 the House of Representatives passed an additional resolution reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the official motto of the United States, in a 396–9 vote.[42][43]

In 2013, a federal court rejected a challenge, brought by Michael Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to remove "In God We Trust" from American currency.[44]

On January 31, 2014, purporting to defend religious freedom, the Mississippi senate voted to add the words, "In God We Trust" to the state seal and the change was made effective on July 1, 2014.[45][46]

In 2015 the county police department of Jefferson County, Illinois announced that the words "In God We Trust" will be on police squad cars.[47] In 2015, the Freedom from Religion Foundation demanded that local authorities remove decals of the motto from Childress, Texas Police Department patrol vehicles. In response, Police Chief Adrian Garcia told the organization, in a written letter, to "go fly a kite."[48]

In March 2017, Act 911, sponsored by State Rep. Jim Dotson, made it a requirement of Arkansas state law for schools to display posters with the national motto ("In God We Trust").[49][50]

Also in March, the same requirement was enacted [51] in Kentucky schools for the 2019-2020 school year requiring the slogan to be displayed "in a prominent location." To protest the requirement, Fayette County Public Schools (Kentucky) in Lexington, KY complied by posting a framed United States one-dollar bill which bears the slogan.[52]

In early 2018, Kimberly Daniels, a pastor[53] who currently serves as the representative for Florida House of Representatives District 14 as a member of the Democratic Party, introduced HB 839, a bill that requires public schools to display the motto "In God We Trust" in a conspicuous place. On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, the bill received unanimous approval from the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee.[54] Later, in a vote on February 21, 2018, the bill passed 97 to 10 in the House.[55][56] As part of Florida's March 2018 K-12 education law, Gov. Rick Scott mandated that all public schools post the state motto ("In God We Trust") in a prominent location.[57]

In March 2018, a bill requiring Tennessee schools to prominently display the national motto ("In God We Trust") sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn passed the state House with 81 of the 99 members voting in favor of it.[58]

In June 2019, the Bakersfield, California City Council voted 4-2 to put an "In God We Trust" sticker on the city's police and fire vehicles. The issue was debated for two hours by 19 people including a lawyer from the ACLU[59]

Society and culture


In Judaism and Christianity, the official motto "In God We Trust" is not found verbatim in any verses from the Bible, but very closely in the Old Testament in Psalm 91:2, "I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust" and in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 1:10, "Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us." The concept is paraphrased in Psalm 118:8, Psalm 40:3, Psalm 73:28, and Proverbs 29:25.[60] In Islam the word for the concept of reliance on God is called Tawakkul; the phrase "In God We Trust" is literally found in two places of the Quran, in Surah 10 Yunus, as well as Surah 7 Al-A'raf, and several other verses reinforce this concept.[61] Melkote Ramaswamy, a Hindu American scholar, writes that the presence of the phrase "In God We Trust" on American currency is a reminder that "there is God everywhere, whether we are conscious or not."[62]

An e-mail conspiracy theory is that "In God We Trust" was intentionally omitted from new U.S. dollar coins in 2007.[63] The first coins produced under the Presidential $1 Coin Program did indeed lack the "In God We Trust" inscription along their edges (along with the "E Pluribus Unum" inscription, the year of production, and the mint mark; these coins, unlike normal dollar coins, had completely blank edges), but these coins, known as "godless dollars", were the result of a minting error, not a deliberate omission.[64][65]

The film They Live (1988) plays on the idea. Special sunglasses allow the wearers to see simple hidden messages instead of the signs they see without them. Advertising is seen as "OBEY", "CONSUME" and "MARRY AND REPRODUCE". Dollar bills are all marked "THIS IS YOUR GOD".[66]

In January 2006, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife Jackie were offered a place on the Valentine's Day celebrity couples edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? They appeared on the show managing to reach the £1 million question, before answering it incorrectly and dropping from £500,000 all the way down to just £32,000 (a loss of £468,000). Celador allowed Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife retry the show after the company claimed that the last question "didn't meet their standards". The allegedly misleading question was "Translated from the Latin, what is the motto of the United States?" The answer given was "In God We Trust" which is originally English and has in fact been the motto of the United States since 1956. The intended answer had been "One Out of Many" which is a translation of the Latin phrase E pluribus unum, which is not actually the current United States motto. E pluribus unum had been the de facto motto but was never legally declared as such.[67]

License plates

As of April 1, 2016 the following U.S. states currently offer an "In God We Trust" license plate as a specialty plate for an additional normal vehicle registration processing which vary from state to state: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio,[68] Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Florida — which also offers a specialty plate — and Georgia which both display the county of issuance on their License Plate offer the option of "In God We Trust" in place of the County Name.


The constitutionality of the phrase "In God We Trust" has been upheld according to the judicial interpretation of accommodationism, whose adherents state that this entrenched practice has not historically presented any constitutional difficulty, is not coercive, and does not prefer one religious denomination over another.[69] In Zorach v. Clauson (1952), the Supreme Court also wrote that the nation's "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being" and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution's authors intended to prohibit.[70]

On the other hand, advocates of separation of church and state have questioned the legality of this motto asserting their opinion that it is a violation of the United States Constitution, prohibiting the government from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion.[69] As such "In God We Trust" as a national motto and on U.S. currency has been the subject of numerous unsuccessful lawsuits by these individuals.[71] The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."[72] In Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Supreme Court wrote that acts of "ceremonial deism" are "protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content".[73]

In June 2006, a federal judge rejected Michael Newdow's Establishment Clause lawsuit on the grounds that the minted words amount to a secular national slogan, and do not dictate anyone's beliefs. Newdow stated that he would appeal the ruling,[74] although Aronow was decided on the same grounds in the Ninth Circuit and the lower court was required to return the same ruling, likewise the Ninth Circuit does not traditionally overrule previous Ninth Circuit rulings. On December 4, 2007, Newdow argued before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit to remove both "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (Roe v. Rio Linda Union School District), and "In God We Trust" from United States currency.[75] The Ninth Circuit rejected Newdow's challenge. In a decision published March 11, 2010, the court held that its earlier decision in Aronow, which "held the national motto is of a "patriotic or ceremonial character," has no "theological or ritualistic impact," and does not constitute "governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise," foreclosed Newdow's argument.[76] In an opinion concurring only in the judgment, even the Judge Stephen Reinhardt[77] agreed that Aronow was controlling precedent.[78] Newdow v. Congress, 598 F.3d 638 (9th Cir. 2010) cert. denied 131 S. Ct. 1612 (U.S. 2011). AKA: The "In God We Trust Case" – A prominent atheist, Michael Newdow, filed a suit to declare the national motto – In God We Trust – unconstitutional and to have it removed from coins and currency.[79][80][81] Pacific Justice Institute intervened as a defendant and defended against the suit.[79][80][81] The case was dismissed by the trial court and the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision.[79][80][81]

In 2015, David F. Bauman dismissed a case against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District brought by a student of the district and the American Humanist Association that argued that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance created a climate of discrimination because it promoted religion, making non-believers "second-class citizens".[82][83] He noted; "As a matter of historical tradition, the words 'under God' can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words 'In God We Trust' from every coin in the land, than the words 'so help me God' from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787."

President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with using the motto on coinage considering its usage "dangerously close to sacrilege".[84]

"... My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good, but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege. ...  Any use which tends to cheapen it, and, above all, any use which tends to secure its being treated in a spirit of levity, is from every standpoint profoundly to be regretted. ... it seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins ...  In all my life I have never heard any human being speak reverently of this motto on the coins or show any signs of its having appealed to any high emotion in him, but I have literally, hundreds of times, heard it used as an occasion of and incitement to ... sneering ...  Every one must remember the innumerable cartoons and articles based on phrases like 'In God we trust for the 8 cents,' ...  Surely, I am well within bounds when I say that a use of the phrase which invites constant levity of this type is most undesirable. ..." - Theodore Roosevelt, November 1907

See also


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  70. ABA Journal Sep 1962. Archived from the original on November 19, 2016. Retrieved September 24, 2016. Much more recently, in 1952, speaking through Mr. Justice Douglas in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313, the Supreme Court repeated the same sentiments, saying: We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. Mr. Justice Brewer in the Holy Trinity case, supra, mentioned many of these evidences of religion, and Mr. Justice Douglas in the Zorach case referred to ... [P]rayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamation making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "So help me God" in our courtroom oaths – these and ... other references to the Almighty ... run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies ... the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court" (312–313). To this list may be added tax exemption of churches, chaplaincies in the armed forces, the "Pray for Peace" postmark, the widespread observance of Christmas holidays, and, in classrooms, singing the fourth stanza of America which is prayer invoking the protection of God, and the words "in God is our trust" as found in the National Anthem, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, modified by an Act of Congress of June 14, 1954, to include the words "under God.
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  77. "Matt Rees, The Judge the Supreme Court Loves to Overturn, The Weekly Standard, May 5, 1997;". Archived from the original on 2010-05-16. Retrieved 2018-02-24. compare "David G. Savage, Crusading Liberal Judge Keeps High Court Busy, L.A. Times, Mar. 3, 1996". The Los Angeles Times. 1996-03-03. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
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  80. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Newdow v. Congress, Archived 2012-09-16 at the Wayback Machine March 11, 2010
  81. C-SPAN Video Library, Establishment of Religion Clause Oral Arguments, Part 1, December 7, 2007
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