During the Spanish Inquisition, Catholics would find Jews by looking to see who ate pork. They’d offer pork to people they suspected of being Jewish, and if they refused to eat it, they were arrested. Because in the 1400s the only real Spaniard was a Catholic Spaniard. There was a holy war aimed at getting rid of the unwanted.
There was a holy war in the United States, too, in the 1950s. There was a man named Joe McCarthy and he waged a holy war against the atheists. “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity,” Joe McCarthy, 1950.
At the start, let me make clear that in my opinion no special credit is due those of us who are making an all-out fight against this Godless force-a force which seeks to destroy all the honesty and decency that every Protestant, Jew and Catholic has been taught at his mother’s knee. It is a task for which we can claim no special credit for doing. It is one which we are obligated to perform. It is one of the tasks for which we were brought into this world-for which we were born. If we fail to use all the powers of mind and body which God gave us, then I am sure our mothers, wherever they are tonight, may well sorrow for the day of our birth…
Government officials were put on trial, torn apart for anything that seemed vaguely related to atheism, communism, homosexuality, or not quite being patriotic enough. Many lost their careers and were unable to find work, some were wrongfully imprisoned on laws that were later overturned as unconstitutional — often on the basis of incredibly flimsy evidence and accusations from people with personal motives.
Perhaps you remember HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which created lists of people who weren’t considered American enough — American in this case meaning Christian Non-Commies. Over 300 artists were boycotted by Hollywood after being put on HUAC’s blacklist and only 10% of them were able to rebuild careers. HUAC did local witch-hunts to ferret out people they didn’t like, making sure communities could shun them as Un-American. Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible”, about the Salem Witch Trials, was inspired by the way HUAC treated people. It was truly a witch-hunt and the offenders were Godless.
It is thanks to McCarthyism and HUAC that the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and the phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted as the national motto in 1956, over the previous, all-inclusive motto “E Pluribus Unum” — Out of Many, One. Before the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger thanks to the many different kinds of people who made up the country; after the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger because of a Christian God.
To be clear, God was added to the Pledge and as a motto in the 1950s not because of a strong devotion to religion but out of a desire to find and punish atheists.
The House has just overwhelmingly reaffirmed the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto. A completely unnecessary move as George W. Bush signed a law in 2002 reaffirming it as the national motto, along with reaffirming “under God” in the pledge. Congress reaffirmed it as the national motto 5 years ago. 2 years ago, the phrase was added to the Capitol visitor center. And this ridiculous vote in the middle of economic crisis that Congress has repeatedly failed to address effectively? OK, so Congress likes God, now can they please get around to liking their constituents?
What drives me crazy is the refusal of the American people and the political establishment to recognize that the so-called tradition of God as part of these things only dates back to the 50s. Everyone seems to think that they were established at the beginning of the country, not as part of a witch-hunt. And they additionally refuse to recognize that not only is it conflating church and state, it is also endorsing the behavior of McCarthy and HUAC. SCOTUS on this issue:
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 patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. – Aronow v. United States, 1970
It has everything to do with establishing atheists as a second-class group of citizens and tacitly endorsing McCarthy’s persecution of those he called “Godless”. If the government is not embarrassed by the blatant disregard of the Establishment Clause, it could at least show the good sense to be embarrassed by Joseph McCarthy.