On November 1, amidst the political wrangling over jobs and deficits, the House of Representatives took thirty-five minutes to debate what may seem like a tangential issue: whether Congress would re-affirm “In God We Trust” as our national motto. The text of the resolution called this “a principle that was venerated by the founders of this country.” Many, including President Obama, questioned the propriety of the measure in light of more pressing business, while the resolution’s defenders said that times of national turmoil were particularly apt occasions for confirming our faith in God. Despite some grumbling, the re-affirmation passed by an overwhelming majority, and the fact that this measure would appear now shows that the question of faith and our founding remains the most controversial historical issue in American politics….
Faith…reminded Patriots such as [Patrick] Henry that the American people needed virtue to channel their freedom into moral purposes. In a republic where the people were sovereign, Henry believed, people had to maintain public-spirited ethics, or chaos would ensue. We have been freshly reminded of this truth by the rampant malfeasance in the financial sector that helped create our recent economic troubles.
So yes, the founders would have affirmed “In God We Trust.” We do often underestimate the diversity of personal religious beliefs among the leading founders. In Patrick Henry, however, we see a founder who spoke with unusual power and authority to average Americans, for whom faith and liberty were intimately connected.