God, politics and America's most notorious coin
June 27, 2002 5:04 PM   Subscribe

God, politics and America's most notorious coin Teddy Roosevelt described the appearance of "In God We Trust" on U.S. money as "dangerously close to sacrilege." He ordered the motto kept off new $20 gold coins designed by famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Congress demanded the motto restored, making the earlier coins into collector's items. The motto didn't appear on paper money until 1957, just after "In God We Trust" replaced the secular "E Pluribus Unum" as the national motto and the words "So help me God" were added to the oaths of office for federal judges. Meanwhile, religious conservatives are using the motto to put "In God We Trust" posters in every classroom in America.
posted by mediareport (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Church and State are separate. Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?
posted by Newbornstranger at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2002

"American Masters" Saint-Gaudens episode

Nice online exhibit of Saint-Gaudens' memorial to the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment, the subject of the movie Glory.
posted by mediareport at 5:14 PM on June 27, 2002

Oh, and here's the text of Roosevelt's letter attacking the use of "so beautiful and exalted a phrase" in ways that encourage levity and "sneering ridicule." And an essay at the American Family Association site admiring his honorable intentions.
posted by mediareport at 5:31 PM on June 27, 2002

Notice how everything came to God in the 50's? It was the threat from those "godless communists". We won. Ok. Let's get back to secular reality.
posted by benjh at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2002

Luke 18:9-14 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2002

bring back the latin i say!1 oh and "cross my heart and hope to die" :)2

1on coinage
2for oaths
posted by kliuless at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2002

hey that reminds me!

Luke 20:24-26 Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's. And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.

ken :)
posted by kliuless at 5:55 PM on June 27, 2002

Semper ubi sub ubi.
posted by crunchland at 6:26 PM on June 27, 2002

when it comes to oaths, what do those who do not believe in god (or who *do* believe in god but not in oaths) say? I mean, in a court of law, or when testifying before congress and so on...
posted by beth at 6:29 PM on June 27, 2002

And it was Teddy R. who derided Tom Paine (Common Sense, The Age of Reason) as a "filthy little atheist"...
posted by anser at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2002

I'm noticing a trend here on MetaFilter...
posted by insomnyuk at 6:58 PM on June 27, 2002

what do those who do not believe in god (or who *do* believe in god but not in oaths) say? I mean, in a court of law, or when testifying before congress

I usually say "Hey, hey, my, my. Rock and roll will never die!" But then the judge just looks at me strangely and I say "I do" like a good citizen.
posted by ljromanoff at 7:11 PM on June 27, 2002

sorry, i was going to comment on this but i've been distracted by the 'american masters six degrees of separation game." the funnest thing is finding the things that are the hubs of everybody's connections... george gershwin, mccarthyism, and andy warhol seem to be the big ones...

oops, thread hijack. sorry.
posted by hob at 7:24 PM on June 27, 2002

The AFA site's glee at the thought of plastering "In God We Trust" across the nation is really something: "Let me suggest that you contact your state officials and get the ball rolling. Such a movement would cause the ACLU to go bananas!...Worried about lawsuits? The courts have always upheld the display of the national motto in public places. And should the ACLU want to sue, your AFA Center for Law and Policy will be happy to defend without cost. I'm really not worried about the ACLU suing. Why? Because they know they will lose."

Oh, and ha:
"You've stumped the Six Degrees Game! We don't know of any connection between Sarah Vaughan and Martin Scorsese."
posted by mediareport at 9:19 PM on June 27, 2002

beth: the Constitution does not specify a religious oath, though it is believed that all persons who took the oath for the presidency have ended with "... so help me God". The text given permits the alternate wording affirm instead of swear, the latter having more Deist connotations 200 years ago than today. So an atheist President could say "I, J. Random Faithless, affirm ...".

At least two presidents have eschewed a Bible themselves; and two have also used the "affirm" wording. One was Herbert Hoover, now considered a bulwark of modern conservatism.

As for the courtroom oath, that is technically a matter of state law -- but Supreme Court decisions have permitted atheist alternatives. I state I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, under penalty of perjury is one such alternative; all you need to do is ask. Apparently the use of a Bible in courtroom oaths is on the decline in any case.

Apparently many of these cases -- such as the original 1943 case which established the freedom of an exemption from the pledge -- are the doing of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Just a reminder that the original idea of religious freedom was established by very religious men. Or maybe what we need to do is elect a JW to Congress or the White House ....
posted by dhartung at 11:44 PM on June 27, 2002

I always do, crunchy. Except while bathing.
posted by ttrendel at 12:12 AM on June 28, 2002

Semper ubi sub ubi.

Always wear underwear? Truly good advice for the nation to follow.
posted by drezdn at 1:14 AM on June 28, 2002

"cross my heart and hope to die"

the Tinman and Duncan Macleod would both be offended. isn't a pinky swear good enough?

Albert Einstein is connected to World War II because Albert Einstein immigrated to the United States because of World War II.

posted by tolkhan at 5:58 AM on June 28, 2002

Great stuff! Thanks! Now if only politicians would grow a spine and if only the masses could be educated/enlightened.... sigh...
posted by nofundy at 6:08 AM on June 28, 2002

You've stumped the Six Degrees Game! We don't know of any connection between Paul Simon and Edgar Allan Poe. My first try!
posted by straight at 7:18 AM on June 28, 2002

six degrees :) give it a try!
posted by kliuless at 7:31 AM on June 28, 2002

Sarah Vaughan sang "It's De-Lovely" by Cole Porter whose songs were featured in "At Long Last Love" starring Cybill Shepherd who also starred in "Taxi Driver" which was directed by Martin Scorsese.

Paul Simon's partner was Art Garfunkel who starred in "Carnal Knowledge" along with Jack Nicholson who had a part in Roger Corman's film "The Raven" which was loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's poem.

And now back to your regularly scheduled thread...
posted by joaquim at 10:34 AM on June 28, 2002

I've just set my desktop to tile those beautiful $20 gold coins. I figure it will work like a subliminal affirmation, and I will grow rich.
posted by crunchburger at 8:20 PM on June 28, 2002

Or maybe what we need to do is elect a JW to Congress or the White House ....

President or Michael Jackson? There's a thought. Congressman Michael Jackson? Wonder what subcommittees he'd be on...

Whoa, joaquim, aces twice--I thought that Sarah Vaughn would figure in a Scorcese soundtrack somewhere but the Poe-Paul Simon connection I hadn't even considered. Good work! By the way, plurals aside, the first five choices for you in spell check are oakum, jonquil, opaque, fauvism and japing. That's pretty cool, too.
posted by y2karl at 8:43 AM on June 29, 2002

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