Here are two lines from a familiar song title that we regret few people can probably identify:
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
These are the middle verses contained in the fourth stanza of our "Star Spangled Banner," which was written during the War of 1812.
The words "In God We trust" have been receiving heavy scrutiny in recent years, especially from atheists. Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and others argued that having a deity -– who they don't believe in – on the money they handle is a form of proselytizing. A federal judge dismissed their lawsuit to have "In God We Trust" removed from U.S. currency.
Judge Harold Baer, citing the Supreme Court, ruled that the federal appeals courts "have found no constitutional violation in the motto's inclusion on currency," and that the placement of the phrase didn't constitute a "substantial burden" on atheists.
Last week, lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to amend a bill and make the posting of "In God We Trust" in Pennsylvania school buildings, including charter schools, optional. Another change adds the Bill of Rights to the proposal. The measure is awaiting a final vote in the House before it can be sent to the Senate.
Although it was not formally adopted until President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into federal law nearly 60 years ago, "In God We Trust" actually has strong Pennsylvania roots. The motto was reportedly first used in the Civil War by the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry as a battle cry during the Battle of Antietam.
Despite the protests, there are elected officials who are not intimidated or ashamed by the motto. In 1868, the Florida legislature adopted "In God We Trust" as part of the state seal and in 2006, it was officially designated in state statute as Florida's motto.
Last week, when Pa. legislators passed its amendment, Rep. Paul Clymer of Bucks County said there are lawyers who would defend the law for free, should school districts need protection against potential litigation.
"I would hope that the fact that we're talking about our national motto, In God We Trust, that people should understand that this is something we should be proud of," Clymer said.
Clymer hit the target with that assessment.
By Jim Zbick