“In God We Trust," which is one of the main legacies of the longest serving member in Congress in Florida’s history, is under attack.
During his long tenure in Congress, which ran from when he was first elected in 1948 until deciding not to run again in 1992, U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett, D-Fla., left a lasting legacy on the First Coast. A veteran who served in World War Two and something of a historian who wrote numerous works on North Florida, Bennett was instrumental in shaping and expanding Jacksonville’s military bases and creating the Fort Caroline National Memorial and the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Still, Bennett’s biggest legacy might be making “In God We Trust,” which was already the motto of the state of Florida, the official motto of the United States. Back in 1955, Bennett sponsored the legislation making that phrase, which came from the fourth verse of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the nation’s motto and ensuring it would be included on American currency. While the phrase first appeared on currency back in 1864, it fell off some of it--namely the nickel--for more than five decades. President Dwight Eisenhower signed Bennett’s legislation into law in 1956. Starting the next year, the phrase started appearing on all paper money as well as coins.
Bennett took to the House floor to make the case for his proposal.
“Nothing can be more certain than that our country was founded in a spiritual atmosphere and with a firm trust in God,” Bennett said. “While the sentiment of trust in God is universal and timeless, these particular four words ‘In God We Trust’ are indigenous to our country.”
Bennett also said the Cold War prompted his push to make “In God We Trust” the national motto, insisting the phrase would “serve as a constant reminder” that faith was important to any democratic republic.
This week, Becket, a non-profit legal institution which defends the role of liberty in the public square, urged the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject atheist Dr. Michael Newdow’s, an attorney and physician, latest effort to remove the national motto from American currency. Newdow has argued that the national motto violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause and “burdens his religious exercise.” Over the years, Newdow has attempted--and failed--to remove “under God” from the “Pledge of Allegiance,” stop prayers and references to God at presidential inaugurations and his efforts to remove the national motto from the currency were rejected before, including by a federal court in New York in 2014.
Diana Verm, a legal counsel at Becket, pushed back on Tuesday.
“This is not Iran or Saudi Arabia,” said Verm,. “No reasonable person would pick up a penny, see the words ‘In God We Trust,’ and panic because we’ve become a theocracy.
“‘God’ is not a dirty word,” Verm added. “Dr. Newdow has every right to hold his beliefs, but he doesn’t have the right to impose them on the rest of us.”
Even with his string of legal defeats, Newdow shows no signs of stopping his various efforts. The fight over “In God We Trust” will in all likelihood continue, even as, thanks to a congressman from the First Coast, the motto continues to appear on dollars and coins across the country.