Odds are good the Founding Fathers would be astounded by the religious controversies of this past week.
First, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-VA, introduced a resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as our national motto. He did so in part after President Obama wrongly claimed the national motto is “E Pluribus Unum.”
Forbes’s resolution failed last year when he introduced it under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic majority. Now under Republicans, the resolution is headed to a floor vote after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee.
Even so, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA, claimed the words “In God We Trust” are unconstitutional, an assertion that would likely stun James Madison and members of the first Congress who approved the First Amendment.
Why? Because the same week they proposed the Establishment Clause, Madison and company also approved hiring tax-paid chaplains to offer prayers to God on the floor of the House and Senate every day Congress is in session.
It would also shock George Washington, who added “so help me God” to the presidential oath of office, and then bent down before the gathered crowd at his Inauguration to kiss the Bible upon which he had taken his oath.
Religious belief that remains widespread in America is given voice by the national motto. Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican expected to run for governor of Indiana in 2012 and widely considered the prohibitive frontrunner, explained the importance of this measure by saying, “I think God is, and he rewards those, including nations, who earnestly seek him.”
A second controversy erupted this week in Minnesota where offering invocations at the beginning of daily sessions in governmental bodies is called legislative prayer. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of these prayers in the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers. (Someone needs to give Rep. Scott a copy of that decision.)
In Minnesota, a local Baptist pastor mentioned the name of Jesus in his prayer before the Minnesota Senate. Sen. Terri Bonoff, a Democrat who is Jewish, objected to including Jesus’ name. She demanded that the name of Jesus be banned from all future invocations.
But having a government official censor any clergyman’s prayer would clearly be unconstitutional. Yet that’s where we are today. The Framers would never believe it.