In 1956 the United States formally declared the national motto of this nation to be “In God We Trust” – a motto that would be stamped on currency and a motto that had appeared previously in US history, on and off, on coins. A famous line talking about this comes from a Supreme Court ruling, the phrase “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being” – from the ruling of Zorach v. Clauson (1952) by the US Supreme Court. Today many candidates for the top office of the land are starting to argue that the United States is a “Christian Nation,” a nation founded on Christian ideals and one in which Christian morality should guide the nation’s course. Many cite the sentence from the Supreme Court ruling above as proof the United States is a pious nation at its core – but I think people should read the whole paragraph instead:
We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. Government may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular institutions to force one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence. The government must be neutral when it comes to competition between sects. It may not thrust any sect on any person. It may not make a religious observance compulsory. It may not coerce anyone to attend church, to observe a religious holiday, or to take religious instruction. But it can close its doors or suspend its operations as to those who want to repair to their religious sanctuary for worship or instruction. No more than that is undertaken here.
I particularly like the phrase “We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary” – if anything should be the driving goal of our nation, to my eye, when it comes to religion that should be the creed of the land. Our Founding Fathers, to use an old phrase, had many motivations driving them when they crafted the Constitution of the United States but many of them, spearheaded by Jefferson, I’m sure would have approved of that ruling by the Supreme Court.