By John D. Pierce

A WaPo story addresses the eagerness of many state lawmakers to push for posting the national motto “In God We Trust” and/or copies of the Ten Commandments in public spaces including schools.

In doing so, lawmakers curry favor with constituents who lack or ignore basic understandings of religious liberty — and the political maneuvers that brought these practices to the American experiment.

Seven states passed such laws related to public schools this year — with the one in Florida coming in response to the school shootings in Parkland. The message seems to be: If we can just make God the official mascot of the nation then bad stuff won’t happen.

Of course, attempts to explain the history of such legislative actions — as well as the brilliant intentions of our nation’s founders to ensure religious freedom for everyone — tend to fall on deaf ears.

The false “Christian nation” narrative begins to unfold — especially if they’ve listened to misinformed and/or manipulative preachers or read fake historians like David Barton.

In a recent social media post demeaning all Muslims, one comment offered the familiar litany including “God is on our money” and people under oath swear to tell the truth “so help me God.” Then added, as if convincingly, that the God our forefathers were referring to “certainly wasn’t Allah!”

Often the best choice is to ignore such nonsense because it is deeply rooted in ignorance and fear — neither of which the person is likely to give up just because they are wrong. And the biggest challenge, when choosing to respond, is deciding where to start.

Does one start with the reality that the word “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent to the English word “God?” Therefore, Christians and Jews who speak Arabic use the term “Allah” as well to refer to the monotheistic being known in English as “God.”

Or might it be helpful to reveal how the requirement for the motto “In God We Trust” to appear on all money didn’t occur throughout most of American history — until Congress passed a resolution inked by Ike just 62 years ago?

However, as we all can attest, currency did stop being used in evil ways once that godly motto was stamped on it six decades ago. Right?

In Georgia one can get an “In God We Trust” sticker on his or her car tag in place of the county designation. I see it most frequently when someone speeds through a pedestrian crosswalk.

The increased and enforced use of the motto was a political response to the Cold War — a reaction to “godless communism” — in the same way the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, two years early, in 1954.

Courts have long deliberated and decided on the constitutionality of such religious language matters. The upholding of the use of the word “God” in these civic ways is generally rooted in the conclusion that these are vague references to an unspecific deity, not any religiously specific one, and are used as merely ceremonial expressions.

In fact, the term “ceremonial deism” is often used to explain that such references to “God” are so generic that they do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.

What is strikingly odd about so many fervent evangelicals today is their eagerness in seeking government support to promote an vague deity! I can’t for the life of me see why that is important to them — rather than ensuring full religious freedom for themselves and all others.

Here’s why I reject and resist these politicized and misinformed actions of so many American Christians: I do not worship a generic, imprecise ceremonial mascot deity, but rather the Creator God who has been made known in Jesus Christ.

And the only help with my faith I want from government is to ensure I can practice my faith freely and equally to those of all other faiths or none at all.

It would seem that all Christians in America would want that as well — especially if they read just enough real history to know the carnage caused by the mergers of government and religion.

Sadly, it appears many American Christians slept through history and civics classes, and missed the whole story of how the church-state abuses in Colonial America are precisely why the nation’s founders brilliantly enshrined full religious freedom through the separation of church and state.

We should celebrate that our founding documents are intentionally secular — which doesn’t mean anti-religion, but not favoring a specific religion.

God (by any name) is not a national mascot who does magically good things when forced up on a population. The God we claim to know and serve doesn’t need the helping hand of state legislatures or any other instrument of government.

If history teaches us anything, it is that true expressions of faith challenge the structures of political power rather than cower to them for legitimacy or a handout.

If you need the government to plaster a motto in public spaces or post someone’s but not everyone’s religious commandments, or if you take offense when secular merchants don’t offer the holiday greeting of your choice, then your faith is misplaced and much too fragile.

Jesus doesn’t need the government’s (or the storekeeper’s) help. Jesus just calls for faithful disciples.

And faith flourishes in freedom, not fear or coercion.

 

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