Kane County took steps toward adopting a resolution Thursday that will either unite people or ratchet up local political and religious tensions.
The 60th anniversary of "In God We Trust" becoming the official motto of the U.S. is July 30. The Illinois Prayer Caucus Network wants all 102 county boards in Illinois to pass a resolution reaffirming the motto and encouraging its public display. A Kane County Board committee unanimously and without comment sent the resolution forward Thursday for consideration by the full county board on Aug. 9.
The county has a tradition of starting full board meetings with a prayer. That prayer has been led by a representative from a variety of religious faiths since Chris Lauzen became chairman in 2012.
The network's Debra Pratt said the call for resolutions supporting "In God We Trust" comes less in recognition of the anniversary and more from a need to remind people of the common bond of being an American.
"We are, as a nation, facing a lot of religious liberty threats," Pratt said. "I think we've forgotten our heritage, our foundation. The truth is that the nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principals, and our constitution references God. And that's a commonality. It's one of those things that can bind us together as a nation at a time when we see the community of Americans being unraveled and being so divisive."
The motto "In God We Trust" traces its history to the Civil War, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury. There was increased religious sentiment because of the national conflict. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from religious citizens urging recognition of God on U.S. coins as early as November 1861. Chase instructed officials at the U.S. mint to prepare a motto.
Congress then authorized the use of such a motto on coins in 1864. It wasn't until 1908 that legislation made "In God We Trust" mandatory on coins. Similar legislation in 1955 made the motto mandatory on all paper currency as well as coins. A year later, on July 30, 1956, Congress made "In God We Trust" the official national motto.
The motto has been challenged in multiple federal courts in a variety of cases and arguments since then. All those attempts have failed.
That's a reality that makes Annie Laurie Gaylor feel unwelcome in America. Gaylor is the co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization is based in Madison, Wisconsin, but has an active chapter in the Chicago area.
Gaylor said the motto, and attempts to make local county governments endorse it, are a slap in the face to what she believes is a growing number of nonreligious Americans.
"This motto literally just haunts us," she said. "It's like saying 'In White We Trust' to a person of any other race. This motto is a message to us that we're not considered part of this country."
Gaylor said promoting "In God We Trust" is a pet cause of the religious right. Resolutions supporting the motto, adopted by a county board or any other local government, just create new divisions for anyone who doesn't identify with right-wing politics, she said.
"If the idea here is unity, they just really got it backwards with this resolution," Gaylor said.
"Their idea of religious liberty is that we have religion in our government. And that's the opposite of religious liberty."