I'm not an expert in politics at all, but I have been wondering about this for a while.

If Church and State are supposed to be separated, isn't it a bit of a contradiction to have "God" so strongly "embedded" in politics? I'm thinking of:

In God we Trust; official motto, printed on money.

[...] so help me God; president swearing-in.

[...] God bless America; pretty much closing every official announcement.

And so on.

How is explicitly acknowledging to believe in God, as a state, not being something that intrinsically goes against the principle of separation?

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    Those examples don't specify which God is being referred to. I think that is accepted as good enough. Sorry atheists...
    – Thomas
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 6:46
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    Nitpicking, until 1956 (H. J. Resolution 396) the unofficial motto of the USA was "E pluribus unum" (Out of many, one). Why then? The answer is the cold war. It was seen as important to mark the difference between the US and the "godless communists".
    – liftarn
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 12:07
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    Note that the essential misunderstanding here is that "separation of church and state" is found nowhere in U.S. law. There are a few more specific principles relating to such a separation (e.g. the establishment clause and a ban on requiring religious tests for holding public office,) but no broad, complete "separation of church and state."
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:38
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    @liftarn "In God We Trust" was ALSO an unofficial American motto long before 1956. A verse of the Star Spangled Banner, written during the War of 1812, includes the line, "and this be our motto: in God is our trust". It was first added to a coin in the 1860's. (That's when the phrasing was tweaked.) Since then, many coins bore the motto until the 1938, when it became required of ALL coins. My point is that it didn't suddenly become America's motto in the '50s, out of nowhere. It already was America's motto. That's the reason the "God" phrase chosen was THAT one.
    – David
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 9:16
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    @PoloHoleSet That's a common and discredited argument. You're taking his words out of context. He was not saying that there's some absolute separation of religion from state (as this question and many today seem to understand "separation of church and state,") but was describing the two things the First Amendment does actually do in regards to religion (preventing the federal government from establishing a state religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion) as being a wall of separation. It was a specific separation - limited to what's actually stated in 1A - not a general separation.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 16:47

13 Answers 13


No, it isn't a contradiction under US law. This has been tested in the Federal Courts, see for example O'Hair v. Blumenthal, and Aronow v. United States. The basic reasoning is summarized in this paragraph from the Anonow case:

It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency "In God We Trust" has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.

Religion and the government have a lengthy history in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson's position was that no man should be compelled to support religion, but that all men should be free to profess their opinions in matters of religion. In context of today's politics and law, the profession of God in those contexts isn't compelling religion, but fits closer the freedom Jefferson described. In the US today, it is optional.

So, U.S. presidents have never been required to add "So help me God" to their oath, but it became a tradition. Some U.S. state constitutions required it, and that wasn't viewed as a conflict in 1776, but the law evolved, and in 1961 the Supreme Court ruled against a state constitution that compelled the words "So help me God" in a state oath of office. The Supreme Court ruled compelling this unconstitutional and unenforceable but did not make optional words illegal.

Thomas Jefferson avoided the word God in official context, but professed in words of his own ending his first inaugural address:

And may that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.


Disclaimer: I'm not that versed in history, so the following might have factual mistakes.

To understand the source of the American separation of church and state, you'll have to take a dive into history.

Between the 16th and 18th century, Europe was in a state of religious turmoil. The ruler decided which religion his subjects would have to follow (Cuius regio, eius religio (thanks @molnarm)), so if you were born under a Catholic ruler and your village was then conquered by a Protestant, you'd have to convert or be persecuted, banished or worse. Just paying lip service to a religion could also have dire consequences. If you then got re-conquered, you'd have to convert again. Due to pretty much constant wars, such a situation wasn't too uncommon.

America became a safe haven for people where they could live without anyone forcing their religion on them, which is why many victims of religious persecution and bloody wars chose to migrate west. The thought of "We don't want anyone to tell us which religion we must have" became ingrained into minds of the American population, but it was still assumed that everyone was a Christian. When the USA achieved independence, the founders decided to formalize it so that a situation like in Europe would never happen on American soil.

The American separation of church and state is not about separating religion from politics, it's about separating the citizens from the religion of the ruler. The USA was still founded as a pretty much Christian nation, but the founders wanted to guarantee that no citizen would be forced into a specific denomination on the whim of a ruler.

In the general case, yes, acknowledging a god as a state means that you discriminate against polytheist churches and atheist belief systems. You connect the state to all monotheistic churches. However, many European and American countries were formed or are based on countries formed during a time when it was assumed that everyone was some sort of Christian and there wasn't enough political pressure for stricter separation and so the connection between many American and European states and Christianity in general still exists.

As a side note, the oath that a president has to swear doesn't have to include the Bible. The president can choose what he swears on. It's just that most are Christians and decide to swear on the Bible.

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    An interesting and informative answer, but the introduction of "In God We Trust" as a de facto motto came quite a long time after the formation of the USA. I get the impression that the emphasis of God in the public sphere was a product of the 1950s, rather than being related to the founders of the USA being Christian.
    – Guy G
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 11:28
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    @GuyG That's really not accurate at all. There certainly was a push towards more emphasis on being a "Christian nation" in the 1950s, but an emphasis on God in the public sphere and explicit mention of God in government definitely dates back to the founders (and even beyond them to the individual colonies and the British Crown.) The Constitution itself alludes to it ("secure the blessings of liberty") and the Declaration of Independence mentions it explicitly ("all men are... endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights." [capitalization in original.])
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:45
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    @Ed999 There were several different waves of settlers to what is now the U.S. Some of them (e.g. Virginia Colony) were for purely economic reasons, as you say. Others (e.g. Plymouth Colony) were more religious pilgrims seeking to escape religious persecution. England did indeed have a state religion at the time (the Anglican Church) and you could indeed be punished - including arrest - for criticizing it or for not following the religious mandates of the British Crown.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 19:48
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    "America became a safe haven for people where they could live without anyone forcing their religion on them" Mmmm. Well, America became a place where various out-of-the-mainstream religious groups could set up. Some of them were liberal about non believers (in their brand of religion) living in their area and some were rather tyrannical about it (that is they didn't come for freedom of religion but to institute their own brand). America as a whole had a place for most everyone, but due to diversity of regional arrangements not due to uniform acceptance. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 20:44

"Separation of church and state" is not actually required by the US Constitution.

Wikipedia says that the phrase "separation of church and state" was first used by Thomas Jefferson in this letter in 1802, when he was President:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Jefferson's use of the phrase indicates that it is the effect of the First Amendment restrictions on the government, but it is not the literal language. Justice Hugo Black wrote that the phrase expresses the intent of the literal language of the amendment.

This matters a great deal. A court case concerning the First Amendment should look at whether a particular issue involves an establishment of religion, or a prohibition of the free exercise of religion. But it is actually not relevant whether a particular issue involves, or violates, separation of church and state - because there is no such requirement in the Constitution!

Usually the distinction is minor, but it can be important. One example, that OP mentioned, is the use of "In God We Trust" on US bills and coins. It's pretty obvious that this is not compatible with the idea of separation of church and state. But that doesn't actually matter. It does not establish religion, and therefore it is permissible according to the Supreme Court.

There is considerable legal debate about this point, though, as described in the previously linked paper. The divide along liberal/conservative lines is basically around whether the First Amendment requires the state to be secular, or simply requires that it not give advantage or disadvantage.

Criticism of the modern Court’s separationist approach has existed since the 1940s, but gained momentum as a result of the resurgence of conservatism during the 1980s and the appointment of constitutional conservatives to the Supreme Court. Today, it is not uncommon for religious, legal, and cultural conservatives to criticize the concept of church-state separation. Critics charge that a separationist perspective imposes a regime of secularism, one that is not neutral toward religious matters but that privatizes and marginalizes religion. Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter argued that the separationism promoted “a culture of disbelief,” while Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus claimed that it created a religiously “naked public square.

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    I'd argue that if the phrase was instead "In Allah We Trust" many people would indeed argue that it was endorsing or 'establishing' a particular religion even though the two words refer to the same deity.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 2:13
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    @CramerTV Endorsing, yes. Establishing, no. The former is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. If the founders had intended to ban such things, they did a really poor job of it, as they themselves frequently mentioned God, including in the U.S. Declaration of Independence and allusion in the Constitution itself. And God is mentioned explicitly in all 50 state Constitutions.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:54
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    @PoloHoleSet The First Amendment doesn't say that the government can't give one religion preference over another. It just says that the (federal) government can't establish a state religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion. It's also worth noting that these limitations applied only to the federal government until the 14th Amendment incorporated the limitations of the Bill of Rights onto the states. Whether the government should give such preference is another question, but the language of the First Amendment contains no prohibition on this.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 16:50
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    And, yes, I'm aware that the Declaration isn't U.S. law. It does, however, provide insight into the mindset of the framers. And it does say that man is "endowed by his Creator [capitalization in original] with certain inalienable rights." While it's true enough that that's not explicitly limited to Christianity, it most certainly is acknowledging God in the same sense as the slogans that this question is about. The concept of a separation that would prohibit government use of such slogans is a purely modern one with no basis in the original intent of the First Amendment.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 16:54
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    @PoloHoleSet Also, your murder analogy is fundamentally flawed. (Correctly) arguing that a general prohibition on all murders encompasses a prohibition on the more specific action of shooting someone in the face is not the same as arguing that more specific prohibitions on establishing a state religion and prohibiting the free exercise of religion encompass a more general separation of church and state. The more general term encompasses the more specific ones, but not the other way around.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 17:01

This is a rather principialist question, and politics is a much more pragmatic field.

Philosophically, yes, a State should not acknowledge a god, there are religions without gods, agnosticism and atheism. As the State should not endorse any particular group, the god question should be absent from the State sphere.

Pragmatically, four out of five Americans are from an Abrahamic religion that share a root concept of god, they feel represented and will defend the use of this symbolism, even hurting the neutrality of the State. No politician would campaign against it as there would be no practical gain and a huge practical loss for them. Unless non-christians/jews/mulisms that are prejudiced by this "state monotheism" campaign actively against it, nothing would change.

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    I would question your use of the adverb "Philisophically". Philosophers are unlikely to agree with you or with each other. Some might argue that a State that does not acknowledge a higher power or authority of some kind, whether that authority is a deity or something more abstract, is likely to descend fairly quickly into dictatorship and despotism. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 8:33
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    Probably the meaning was lost in translation. In Portuguese we frequently use philisophically as meaning "in a abstract discussion", "if we debate pure values", and not relating to any Philosophy actual thesis.
    – Cochise
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 11:07
  • The discussion about whether or not atheism is a religion has been moved to chat: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/86397/…
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 19:38
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    @Cochise In Portuguese we frequently use philisophically as meaning "in a abstract discussion" -- this meaning also exists in English. I understood your sentence naturally as you intended.
    – J...
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 18:04

I will try to explain as I was taught, so please bear with me.

Separation of church and state is just that: The state should hold no powers over any church.

Keep in mind that, while not a new concept back then, it was an unusual one. Many "states" like Spain, England, France, and so on were actually going through quite a bit of religious turmoil.

It was illegal, and sometimes even a capital crime to believe differently than the government. Monarchs in those days could not even take the throne without the "permission" of the pope. In fact, monarchs are "imbued by God with the power to rule". They are literally better then the rest of us because God said so. At least that's how the logic went back then. (Some of that was starting to change, but it was still recent).

The separation of church and state was to prevent that.

The actual line is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Which loosely means that congress can not pass a law "messin' with churches." It does not, in any way, provide for a secular country. Its purpose was exactly the opposite. The founding fathers wanted US citizens to practice whatever religion they wanted to, with no restrictions.

As for acknowledging God, there is no prohibition against it. It is in fact encouraged.

  • By the time the US was formed, there were plenty of rulers that weren't Catholic. The Treaty of Westphalia said that rulers could decide the state religion. Russia never was Catholic. Plenty of rulers didn't care about the Pope's permission. Also, "whatever religion they wanted to" does not necessarily come with a God. Using "God" like that appears to establish Western monotheist religions, as opposed to Taoists and Buddhists. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:30
  • What you write is true, coteyr, but... it is about the Establishment Clause, while the question is not about that - it is about separation of state and church. Which in the US exists only to a limited extent.
    – ANeves
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:34
  • "They are literally better then the rest of us because God said so." I think you're conflating a grant of authority with inherent worth or goodness. This is antithetical to the Biblical text, although I couldn't be sure there weren't religious elements pushing the idea. The change likely coincided with the Reformation, which was largely rooted in challenging the unbiblical teachings of the Roman church. ...My point just being that this was never actually consistent with what Christianity originally taught.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 9:17
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    "Separation of church and state is just that: The state should hold no powers over any church." Not just that... that is a two-way street... that no church should hold power over the state and that no state should hold any power over the church.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 11:48
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    Good answer but I think the last part is what confuses people. Wanting citizens to practice whatever religion without restriction while also being encouraged to acknowledge God (as a state) is a bit of an odd combination.
    – aw04
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 21:55

Before addressing this, a couple of points in your premise are flawed -

"...so help me God" is not part of the official swearing in. Someone can say that if they want, but it is not a required part of the official ceremony.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

US Consitution - Article II, Section 1 - 8

The same goes with "God bless America" - that's a personal statement.

Now, on to your statement -

"in God We Trust" - of course it is a very specific religious statement, and intended to be a specifically Christian one. Yes, federal courts have ruled that it's some sort of generic, non-religious statement, but that's simply because SCOTUS decided they did not want to make what would be a spectacularly unpopular ruling to bar it, and basically started at their desired ruling and worked backwards from there. It was never part of the official lexicon of the US government at the time of the founding of the nation, and has only appeared and been added in response to upswings in religious sentiment.

During the Red Scare hysteria of post-WWII, early Cold War era, everyone was eager to demonstrate how non-communist they were, and the thing many fear-mongering conservatives loved to point to was the official atheist stance of the communist governments. That was added to show how non-commie and God-fearing we were, and by God-fearing they did not mean any kind of non-Protestant god. That's when it was officially, by joint Congressional proclamation, added to all currency.

“Nothing can be more certain than that our country was founded in a spiritual atmosphere and with a firm trust in God,” Bennett proclaimed on the House Floor. “While the sentiment of trust in God is universal and timeless, these particular four words ‘In God We Trust’ are indigenous to our country.” Furthermore, Bennett invoked the cold war struggle in arguing for the measure. “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom,” he said. Adding “In God We Trust” to currency, Bennett believed, would “serve as a constant reminder” that the nation’s political and economic fortunes were tied to its spiritual faith.

US House of Representatives History Art and Archives Historical Highlights: "In God We Trust"

Charles E Bennett, from Florida, was the member of the House of Representatives that introduced the joint resolution to enshrine "In God We Trust" as the national motto of the USA.

“In God We Trust” was first added to U.S. coins during the beginning of the Civil War, when religious sentiment was on an upswing and concerned Americans wanted the world to know what their country stood for. Many wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on the matter, and he agreed with their arguments. Congress passed his act requesting the addition of “In God We Trust,” adapted from a lesser-known verse of Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner,” and the first two-cent coin with the phrase was minted in 1864.

By the turn of the century, however, the war’s memory had faded; President Teddy Roosevelt considered the mingling of God and Mammon to be vulgar, and he ordered the phrase removed from newly designed gold coins in 1907. A public outcry forced Congress to backtrack. By the mid-1950s, the concern with piety in Washington had apparently deepened; in 1955 Congress ordered the same phrase to appear on all paper currency.

....But as TIME wrote in that ’91 story, the banality of the phrases may not be worth the fight as a symbol of separating church from state. “Today even ardent separationists seem to agree with retired Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, who wrote in 1983 that slogans such as ‘In God We Trust’ have ‘lost any true religious significance.'”

Time Magazine: How 'In God We Trust' Got on the Currency in the First Place

  • For what it's worth, honestly, when was the last time you used coined or printed currency? When you pay by credit card or ATM (or bitcoin, check, etc) you use dollars, cents, and $... not "InGodWeTrustples" or "GodBlessAmericetas". Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 15:41
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    @elliotsvensson - Just purchased a soda from my work vending machine about the time you made that comment. Coins for that. Generally, I use currency when buying pitchers of lager for my volleyball team every Thursday. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 15:43
  • Based on your comment on my answer, and after reading this one, I wonder if you and I are answering subtly different questions: why is it allowed vs. why isn't it banned. Maybe I'm splitting too fine a hair or off base with that. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 15:59
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    @PoloHoleSet wow that's epic. Now I'm hungry. As for the rest, I find your argument reasonable but unconvincing. We're still talking about a bunch of theists who did the writing. I find the "we can't sort this out so we're going to officially punt" narrative more likely than the "even though we all believe in God let's act like we don't" narrative. Or am I miss-reading you? Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:09
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    Theist: I believe in any supernatural higher power that does or does not influence worldly events. Agnostic: I doubt it's possible given the limitations of humanity to decide whether or not a supernatural power could exist. Depending on where the burden of proof is placed an agnostic could in practice overlap with an atheist (e.g. no evidence, so no God until proven otherwise). Evangelist: I believe in a very specific God(s) and actively work towards ends they endorse. If I am making an error of terminology, please correct me. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:25

Note that the examples you cite do not specify which God is being referred to. If the government made reference to Jesus or the ten commandments, that would be different.

That vagueness seems to be accepted as good enough both politically and legally. It's too vague to be classed as establishing a religion.

Atheists and some non-Abrahamic religions are unfortunately left out by this. That's a political consequence of those groups being a tiny minority in the US currently and even smaller historically. (However, that is slowly changing and the situation may look different in 50 years.)

And many people in those groups simply ignore such vague references to God. Many people say "Oh my God" in a purely secular manner and interpret these official references similarly. So even amongst that small group, there is not much political will to change this.

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    The linked table is interesting in many ways. Not least that there are apparently significant numbers of people who identify as followers of Christian religions that don't believe in god! Mostly I want to note that it is not just atheists who are being implicitly snubbed by the frequent references to god in American culture but also Buddhists and to some extent Hindus.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 13:50
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    Except if you were to suggest that the trusted God was Allah or a Jewish god, either to current proponents or to the people who passed the resolution back in the 1950s, you'd be set straight very, very quickly. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 15:33
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    @PoloHoleSet - historically speaking - that is the same God; As Christians, Jews, and Muslims all find their historical roots in the same thing - the God of Abraham. They do diverge in particulars from that point on. Any reasonably intelligent and honest theologian from any of those religions would (and does) say the same. Again - there are divergences later in terms of understanding / belief of said God's character and intentions, but for practical purposes - it's the same
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 17:18
  • The fastest-growing religious classification in the US is "None", so I'm not convinced nonbelievers are such a tiny minority. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:32
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    @NKCampbell FWIW, a Muslim guy I know claims that his God isn't the Christian one. Lots of Christians would say God isn't Allah. Logically, this makes no sense, because there ain't room in the Universe for two such deities. For practical political purposes, though, they aren't necessarily the same God. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 3:16

It is a (arguably slight) violation of separation of state and religion, as it implies the existence of a god and also (arguably) of a single god. However, that doesn't specifically imply support for a single religion, so it would only discriminate against atheists and potentially polytheists. Note that it doesn't force or endorse a single religion and thus, doesn't, by itself, restrict an individual's choice of religion. It sure might offend though.

However, it is not a violation of separation of state and church, as it does not identify any particular church, imply support or preference for any church or support any particular church with means of the state.

Now this argument is general in nature, it is a different question whether the imprint violates any US law that might enshrine some form of separation of state and religion/church. There are many countries that are in principle secular states, aim to be, have laws in that direction and/or are generally considered as such, but do have some lawful entanglements with particular religions/churches, typically the (historical) majority denominations.

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    I've seen/heard it a few times, but the "it only discriminates against a few groups" argument is still so very terrible. I can't imagine anyone trying to argue that with race, for example.
    – Geobits
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 15:12
  • @Geobits: the main point is that it doesn't actually discriminate on its own and is relatively broad, but not all encompassing. Thus it transgresses the line of no religious interference/preference by the state, but less than endorsing or even enforcing a single specific religion would. I'll see if I find the time to rewrite that though, as indeed, the "discriminate" part is misleading. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 15:25

The founding fathers were largely theists and largely Christian, but from various different sects of Christianity. A substantial minority like Ben Franklin were deists.

Since they couldn't all agree which type of Christianity or even whether Christianity was preferable to a more generic deism, they put the separation of church and state provisos in to prevent one sect from taking over and banning all the others by government fiat.

There was not likely any serious intent that the idea of God would be abandoned, as evidenced by the official language you mention in your question.

Further more two of the largest groups to settle America (and have the first successful settlement) were the Puritans and the Quakers, both of which came here fleeing religious persecution. The idea of religious tolerance was probably a little more appealing in early America than most places.

Update based on chat conversation:

To be clear and avoid misunderstandings: I am answering the question "does acknowledgement of God violate separation of church and state?" and making the case in general that no, it doesn't (for the Constitutional definition). Some of the specific examples listed by the OP may well be violations of separation.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about the constitutional relevance of the Declaration of Independence has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 12:25
  • The Wikipedia article you link to says nothing to explicitly confirm you assertion that they were largely theists. While I've not read the book, if it does support that, you might consider updating the Wikipedia article. If not, I'd certainly agree that they were largely Deists. Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 3:48

A very novel question, and I deeply appreciate the factual and dispassionate answers given here. I would add a few more points here:

  • that "In God We Trust" and so forth are merely ceremonial and, to a certain extent, decorative; they do not have the force of law. In the United States, there is no penalty for not trusting in God.
  • that the Establishment Clause, at the time it was written, was intended to prevent the establishment of an official state church, complete with mandatory church tithes, state-sponsored seminaries, and precise creeds on esoteric theological questions. The Establishment Clause did not and does not prevent religious lay people from exercising secular political office and influence in a manner consistent with their ethics and beliefs. Example: George Washington's Thanksgiving declaration.
  • that the Establishment Clause was actually intended to promote spirituality in this country. In the Motherland, strict blasphemy laws backed by capital punishment prevented lay people from earnestly debating, for example, the exact nature of the Holy Trinity. Also, religious scholars had to give full assent to the complex creeds to retain their official church salaries, and politicians had to take religious oaths before assuming office. Powerful people maintained their privilege, while honest, god-fearing people were punished for seeking the truth. Thus, there was the perception of corruption and hypocrisy. See the Virginia Statute on Religion Freedom; and Thomas Paine's Age of Reason.
  • That, despite the literal text of the First Amendment, the founding generation of American statesmen had their own implicit biases that were not entirely in line with the spirit of the Constitution. Thus, Justice John Jay's soundbite about "our Christian nation" which "prefer[s] Christians for their rulers".
  • That some of the Founders kept their non-Christian beliefs secret, and had, perhaps, ulterior motives for legislating the church-state separation. Paine is a prime example of this; he did not fully announce his Deist, anti-religious views until near the end of his life, and after the Revolution was a success. Jefferson was more open about his selective interpretation of religion; and Washington mostly kept his beliefs to himself. There is a lot of (mostly uninformed) conjecture about their Freemasonry activities, as well.

Establishment Clause jurisprudence in this country has a fascinating history. It has been historically weak; it was not uncommon for heirs to dispute a will in court by claiming that money was left for an "un-Christian" charity or organization, or for defendants and witnesses in court to be questioned about their church attendance; Constitutional guarantees were no match for small-town politics and jury biases.


Without addressing your question per se, let's examine a parallel issue:

Does separation of church and state require the US government to promote atheism?

I think the answer is very clearly "No, that is not required by separation of church and state." The two extremes of building religion and destroying religion are addressed in turn by the first two clauses in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

A law with respect to the establishment of religion, such as the Church of England or the Church of Denmark, would be an unconstitutional law. Likewise, a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, such as the laws which regulate the order in which akharas enter the water during Kumbh Mela, would be unconstitutional.

  • I'm not sure that providing an answer that specifically does not address the question is a great idea, unless you are looking to bolster some kind of street cred through accumulation of down-votes. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:32
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    Funny, I've never imagined this sort of street cred. I'll think about it. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:40
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    @PoloHoleSet, mostly I'm avoiding the trouble of asking my own question and hoping people are cool with that. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:41
  • That would be the rebellious, non-conformist flavor of street cred, I'd think. In any case, I'm not down-voting, unless that is what you decide you want. Then I'm happy to "support" your cause. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:43
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    @PoloHoleSet, downvoting usually results in censure around here, so I don't think it's ever a good objective to try to gain downvotes. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 16:48

Ever since the first settling of America, Americans have believed in God. The statements already offered, proves that the United States Government does believe in God. The real issue is that the State does not recognize a specific church or religion. The government has promoted God in the past, and has the right to do so in the future. Technically, the state could require belief in God. It is not prohibited anywhere. They just can't force you to go to a church. You are compelled to believe in God when you recite the pledge. Our laws are based on a Christian ethic. This is generally accepted as being the correct moral path. Take other religious attitudes that require stoning to death, amputation, beating, slavery, and no rights for women. You could say that the government, in practice, is Christian, although not specifically one Christian faith. Even the atheists involved with the creation of our government agreed with these ideas, if not the faith. There are those who do not like this and want it to be different. They are attempting to change history, but the past does not change. History can be rewritten, but it would only be lie. It would be good for all to accept the truth and build on truth rather than lies or distortions. If something needs to be changed, today is the time to do it, not 200 years ago.

  • " You are compelled to believe in God when you recite the pledge. " - reciting does not necessary involve believing. Politicians (and more generally, humans) often say things that are different from what they think. Some us learn to do it very early.
    – Alexei
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 15:29
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    Are we talking about the same country? For example requiring a belief in god would be prohibited under the constitution by what is called the No Religious Test Clause Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 4:12

God is not the church. The church is not God.

There's a separation of church and state, but nowhere is it written that there's a separation of God and state.

This is just based on logic.

If you're an atheist and don't believe in God, this argument still stands. God or no god, the word/concept God is different from the word/concept church.

If you downvote my answer please let me know why in the comments. Thank you.

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    Quite right: God is not a religion. Religion is about human practices -- how we relate to God. The 1st Amendment says that the government can't require you to attend (for example) Protestant church services or Catholic mass (nor can it forbid you from either) or to pray (nor can it forbid that). For the Constitution to require lawmakers to act as if they were in a hypothetical situation where God didn't exist would be absurd. Lawmakers and voters are free to adopt whatever assumptions or axioms seem right to them.
    – user15103
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 17:07
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    @Joe - endorsement of a specific God, at all, violates the Establishment Clause, not just trying to force someone to pray at my church. Requiring lawmakers to run government in a completely secular manner is no way makes them deny the existence of their beliefs or gods. That's a flawed argument. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 17:11
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    @elliotsvensson - It might, but since there is a prohibition upon preventing individuals from exercising the practice of their chosen religion freely, it would fall afoul of that. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 21:41
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    @Joe, Politicians are free to believe whatever they want but one of the major reasons this country was founded was because people didn't want 'the state' forcing its beliefs of a god - any god - on the people. So whether or not there exists one or more gods is irrelevant. Do note that 'the fact' of the people believing in gods and 'the fact' of there being gods are similarly irrelevant for creating good laws.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 0:14
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    @Joe There are no valid proofs of the existence of a God, although that debate's more for philosophy.stackexchange.com. The government can work just fine without considering a god, as long as that god doesn't meddle, and there's very little evidence of any god meddling. Governments mostly act as if General Relativity wasn't true (the GPS program is an exception), and that has very strong evidence for it. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 3:10

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