I hardly know where to begin in responding to Frank Russo's letter of last week, but let's start with the history of the phrase "In God We Trust," which he obviously knows little about. Contrary to Mr. Russo's assertions, Abe Lincoln did not order "the words 'In God We Trust' placed on all US currency." Also, despite Mr. Russo's attempt to rewrite our national anthem, the phrase "In God We Trust" does not appear in the rarely heard fourth verse of The Star Spangled Banner. A similar phrase, "In God Is Our Trust" does appear there, but there is little evidence that this had anything to do with the origin of the motto, although it is often used as an ex post facto justification for it. The phrase did first make its appearance on a US coin in 1864, but this was largely due to the machinations of the director of the mint, one James Pollock who had long been an advocate for Christianizing the US government. Mr. Lincoln, who was understandably preoccupied with more pressing matters, had little to do with it. While Mr. Pollock was successful in obtaining from Congress the discretionary power to put the phrase on certain US coins, it is perhaps fortunate that other initiatives supported by him were less successful. These include: an attempt to discourage immigration by increasing the naturalization period from five to 21 years, a proposal to require that only Protestant teachers be allowed in public classrooms, and an amendment to the Preamble to the US Constitution which would proclaim "The Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, and His revealed will as of supreme authority."
Indeed, it was not until over 90 years later that the use of "In God We Trust" was mandated for all US currency. This took place during a flurry of McCarthy era legislation that began in 1954 with the insertion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, continued in 1955 with the provision that "In God We Trust" appear on all currency and coins, and culminated in 1956 with the adoption of "In God We Trust" as the national motto. All this to prove, in the words of the Committee on the Judiciary, that " ... one of the greatest differences between the free world and the Communists, (is) a belief in God." Truth be told, the story of how "In God We Trust" came to replace the Founding Fathers' choice of "E Pluribus Unum" is a rather dismal one.
However, what is done is done, and I'm not proposing that we undo it now. Like Mr. Lincoln, we have more important issues to address. It is time to concentrate on what unifies us, not what divides us. Posters that imply that only some of our students are fit for American citizenship are inappropriate at any time, but are especially inappropriate now. And for Mr. Russo, at a time like this, to suggest even rhetorically that board members who do not support the plaques "say the Pledge ... with inner repulsion and disgust" is despicable, and reminiscent of the worst excesses of the McCarthy era. What makes this even worse is that Mr. Russo has not been completely honest with the board and the community. Why is it that he did not see fit to disclose that in donating these plaques he is acting as the front man for an organization known as the American Family Association (AFA), a Christian advocacy group? This is an organization which opposes "multiculturalism" in schools, believes that our educators are engaged in a conspiracy to teach our children paganism, and urges a boycott of Disney because they are "one of the leading promoters of the homosexual lifestyle. It is the AFA that provides these plaques, lobbies state legislatures to mandate their display in every classroom (they have already been successful in Mississippi) and promotes them as a "reminder of the historic centrality of God in the life of our republic." At least it is clear why Mr. Russo is so ignorant of the actual history of this motto - the details undercut the message that he and his organization are trying to put across in their efforts to "educate" our children. Thanks very much Mr. Russo, but I think we can do without your help.
Mr. Russo has been far from forthright with the board and the community, both in terms of his agenda and in terms of his affiliation. These plaques are clearly much more than the donation of a private citizen whose only wish is to educate our students as to how "In God We Trust" became the national motto. The facts surrounding this donation are substantially different from the understanding of the board when they voted to accept it. Based on these facts, I believe that the board should revisit and reverse their decision, our faculty should be left to their business of educating our children in a professional and responsible manner, and Mr. Russo should be ashamed of himself.