According to a December 6, 2010 Press Release by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) , members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus have criticized President Barack Obama for telling an audience in Indonesia last month that the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” is a good summary of the American experience.
The Prayer Caucus, led by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), wrote to Obama complaining that he called “E Pluribus Unum” the national motto during a Nov. 10 speech at a university in Jakarta.
The national motto, the caucus insists, is actually “In God We Trust.”
AU pointed out that “E Pluribus Unum” appears on the Great Seal of the United States, which was codified in 1782, and the phrase is still used on coinage. In citing it, Obama was trying to make the point that even though Americans are of diverse backgrounds, they have joined together as one nation.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and state was quoted as saying:
“This is one of the silliest manufactured controversies I’ve ever seen, and I would advise the president to deal with it by tossing the caucus’ letter into the nearest wastebasket.”
Yes, the Prayer Caucus’ letter is a waste of time and should be thrown in the trash bin. But we can imagine some other interesting responses that we might make to U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and his Prayer Caucus. We could ask exactly what do they understand by the motto “In God We Trust.” If I trust in God, do I let things work their own way instead of working to see to it that things get done right? Does this mean that the U.S. should really act on the belief that God takes care of everything? Does it mean that we can sit back and rely on God? Does this mean that we no longer need to spend billions upon billions on military defense of our nation? In God we Trust! Does this mean that the U.S. should no longer take on foreign projects, such as our wars on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan? Trust that God will take care of problems there too! Does it mean that members of Congress will no longer work to protect the interests of their wealthy sponsors, since God will care them too? Does it mean that our country does not need to concern itself with diminishing natural resources, with industrial damage to the environment, and with the prospect of Global warming? Trust in God; and God takes care of everything.
Suppose that two people are working hard to alleviate suffering. One trusts in God and the other, an agnostic, does not. But they choose to remain silent about their philosophies; and the believer has no time to pray. How could we identify the trust-in-God person? Tell us, Representative Forbes, how would we distinguish one from the other. And what difference to could it possibly make to their work to alleviate suffering?