On January 30th, 2007, the Texas State Senate unanimously passed the "Patrick Resolution" (SR141) which directs the State Preservation Board to place "In God We Trust" permanently in the Senate chamber. The phrase was immediately added to the reader board and must be permanently affixed on the portico over the Lt. Governor's podium by September 1, 2007. One week prior to this decision, the Texas House passed a similar resolution 141-3.
In a press release following the vote, Senator Patrick said, "The purpose of this is that it sends a message to everyone who comes in here that this Senate stands for Judeo-Christian values." The press release concluded with a note stating that "On April 22, 1864, the United States Congress adopted In God We Trust as their official motto."
The final statement in Senator Patrick's press release is factually incorrect. On April 22, 1864, Congress passed the coinage act which allowed "In God We Trust" to be added to coins, in addition to several other mottos. This did not establish the phrase as the official motto of Congress or The United States. The motto was adopted as the national motto (replacing E Pluribus Unum) in 1956 and added to all U.S. currency in 1957. This action, which continues to be challenged, was a McCarthy era reaction to communism which completely disregards the U.S. Constitution under the guise of patriotism. It is every bit as divisive as the Patrick Resolution, while the coinage act is far less controversial or problematic.
Misrepresenting the coinage act of 1864 as an action similar to, or as justification for, this bill is a demonstration of either Senator Patrick's ignorance or dishonesty. It is yet another example of the misinformation littering our society in order to prop up the myth that the United States is, or should be, a Judeo-Christian nation. It's understandable that the Senator would try to tie his bill to the coinage act rather than admitting that this is simply an extension of McCarthy-era misperceptions. Appealing to the coinage act allows the Senator to compound the error committed in 1956 and further his own career at the expense of the Constitution.
Setting aside that factual misrepresentation, each member of the State Senate should be ashamed of their support for this bill. These individuals have been elected to public office to represent the people and carry on the essential work of the legislative branch. Wasting time and resources to redecorate the Senate chamber in order to pay homage to a deity is a flagrant misuse of the limited time that the legislature is in session.
This bill violates the spirit, if not the letter of the Texas State Constitution, Article 1, Section 6, which states:
No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship. But it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to protect equally every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship.
The Patrick bill is not necessary; it doesn't protect every religious denomination equally and represents a clear violation of the principles of church-state separation by showing a preference for a particular type of religious belief. While the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that preference should not exist for one religion over another or religion over irreligion, the Texas legislature has failed to grasp this simple concept. This motto excludes polytheists, atheists, deists and any number of religionists whose theological views are in conflict with the existence of, deference to, or trusting in a deity.
The Patrick Resolution serves no secular purpose, and its author makes this point clear. Senator Patrick, in addition to appealing to "Judeo-Christian" values, states that this bit of legislation serves to "forever recognize our creator" and serve as a constant reminder which will offer them "guidance in the many tough decisions" faced by the legislature. This is, clearly, a religious action.
This divisive act should not be the position of any representative of the public. Do they only represent Christians and Jews? Is Senator Patrick correct, does the Senate really stand for the values of 2 religions while marginalizing other beliefs? Is it the responsibility of the Senate to "forever recognize our creator"? Is their faith so weak that it needs a constant reminder on property that belongs to everyone, including those who don't share the beliefs of Senator Patrick?
If Senator Patrick and the Texas State legislature feel that they need to be reminded of their religious beliefs, perhaps they could buy a bracelet that reads "In God I Trust" or find some other method that keeps their religion a private and personal matter instead of something they feel compelled to broadcast, as official state action, by defacing property that belongs to all citizens of this great state. Perhaps in the spirit of the State Constitution, they could consider how their actions are viewed by those who don't share their beliefs and recognize that the legislature's duty with respect to religion is to enact laws that protect the rights of all religious beliefs instead of passing divisive bills that are, in reality, statements of faith.
The Atheist Community of Austin joins all rational, freethinking persons who support the principles of church-state separation in admonishing Senator Patrick and the 80th Texas legislature for their support of this bill.
The Atheist Community of Austin is organized as a nonprofit educational corporation to develop and support the atheist community, to provide opportunities for socializing and friendship, to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture, to defend the first amendment principle of state-church separation, to oppose discrimination against atheists and to work with other organizations in pursuit of common goals. For more information about the Atheist Community of Austin, or to read our position on the National Day of Prayer, see our web site at http://www.atheist-community.org or call 512-371-2911 (voice mail).