In God We Trust
From Academic Kids
The final stanza of "The Star-Spangled Banner," written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key (and later adopted as the U.S. National Anthem), contains one of the earliest references to a variation of the phrase: "...And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
The most common place where the motto is observed in daily life is on the money of the United States. The first United States coin to bear this national motto was the 1864 two-cent piece. It did not appear on paper money until the 1950's.
Today, the motto is a source of some heated contention. One side argues that a need for a "separation of church and state" requires that the motto be removed from all public use, including on coins and paper money. They argue that religious freedom includes the right to believe in the non-existence of God and that the gratuitous use of the motto infringes upon the religious rights of the unreligious. They argue that any endorsement of God by the government is unconstitutional. Many also argue that the motto, along with the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, was made official simply because of US opposition to the atheistic Soviet Union, the main adversary of the United States at the time.
The other side of the argument states that the separation of church and state means that Congress shall not impose a state religion on the populace, and that the separation of church and state is a legislative invention not intended by the founding fathers (though there is reference to a "wall of separation between church and state" in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson). They argue that religious language is used in the founding documents, such as "Nature and Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence; although opponents point out that the Declaration is simply a historical, rather than official, document of the US Government—moreover the emphasis on "Nature" indicates a naturalistic Deist, rather than Christian, philosophy. The Constitution lacks such references.
"As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion - as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen - and as the said states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
Interestingly, Theodore Roosevelt argued against the requirement of the motto on coinage, not because of a lack of faith in God, but because he thought it sacrilegious to put the name of the Deity on something so common as money. This argument is rarely used by either side today.
Whichever side of the argument is ultimately victorious will be determined at some point in the future, either by judicial fiat, legislation or constitutional amendment; but at this point use of the motto on circulating coinage is required by law. Some activists have been known to cross out the motto on paper money as a form of protest. While several laws come into play, the act of May 18, 1908 is most often cited as requiring the motto (even though the cent and nickel were excluded from that law, and the nickel did not have the motto added until 1938). Since 1938, all coins have borne the motto. The use of the motto was permitted, but not required, by an 1873 law. The motto was added to paper money over a period from 1964 to 1966.