Times of challenge reveal true character. And oftentimes, difficult times are a reminder of the values and foundation that are most important to us. This is true for individuals and it is true for our nation. There is no doubt that our country faces many challenges today. I have frequently said that our priorities as we head into a new year and a new Congress must be getting our federal fiscal house in order, supporting policies that create jobs, and working towards an economic future that is sustainable. But at the centerpiece of those issues are the values and foundations that are most important to us as a nation. We cannot lose sight of those historical threads that make our nation unique. If we brush them aside, or allow them to be pulled apart, we will begin to unravel the very foundational freedoms that birthed the United States.
Last month, in an address to the University of Jakarta in Indonesia, President Obama said "But I believe that this history of both America and Indonesia should give us hope. It is a story written into our national mottos. In the United States, our motto is E Pluribus unum - out of many one...our nations show that hundreds of millions who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag.”
But E Pluribus unum is not our national motto. And we are united under something greater than one flag.
“In God We Trust” has been a foundational phrase used throughout our nation’s history, from Presidential proclamations, to engravings in both the House and Senate chambers, to the oath taken by all federal employees. And in 1956, Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed the law establishing “In God We Trust” as the official national motto of the United States. The motto is referred to in the national anthem and is engraved on U.S. coins and currency. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag says that we are united as “one nation under God.” These truths are established by the Declaration of Independence, the foundational document for freedom around the world.
The President’s inaccuracy may on the surface seem like a simple mistake or a small omission. But in his inaccuracy, the President cast aside an integral part of American society. The very essence of our nation is that rights belong to the individual, and that our rights are God-given and not granted by the government. The religious underpinnings of our nation are not evident merely because of the existence of a phrase “In God We Trust.” Rather, the very foundation upon which our nation was built was a trust in God. To lose sight of those principles, to overlook those principles, or to omit those principles is to forget the true character of our nation.
At a time in our nation’s history when the federal government is reaching further into the lives of Americans in a way that has not been seen before, it is even more important to remember where our freedoms are derived from. If the federal government is the giver of those rights, the federal government can take our rights away. But if we have a certain set of inalienable rights, given by a Creator, as is established by the Declaration of Independence, then neither citizens nor government can take them away.
President Obama’s words were symbolic. They are representative of a growing trend, not only in the Administration but across the nation, to require the exclusion of God from matters of government and public life. In so doing, it is removing the foundation upon which our nation was built and omitting a principle that has been embedded into the fabric of society and history in the United States. President Reagan once warned that “If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
This week, I joined with members of the bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to simply issue a correction to the speech he gave in Jakarta, acknowledging that his words did not accurately reflect this important and central American statement. In the letter, we offered to meet with the President to discuss our concerns in person. The President’s correction would not directly move us towards reducing our debt, placing our economy back on a sustainable path, or creating jobs for Americans. But the correction would be emblematic. His correction would acknowledge that we as Americans have a certain set of God-given rights that the government cannot take away. It would acknowledge that our principles and our nation’s character are important. And it would send a message that our first step in meeting the great challenges of our day is to remember the true character of our nation.