In Congress, a really good law is like a really good movie. If audiences liked it the first time, they’re going to love a remake — or two.
That appeared to be the logic Tuesday evening as the House debated whether “In God We Trust” should be the national motto. Of course, “In God We Trust” already is the national motto, guaranteed by an act of Congress in 1956.
And “In God We Trust” had already been reaffirmed once before as the national motto, by another act of Congress in 2002.
Still, on Tuesday, the House spent 35 minutes debating whether the motto should be re-reaffirmed.
Many lawmakers threw their heart into the debate, even though it was a remake of a remake — its outcome as predetermined as the end of the third King Kong movie.
“Is God God? Or is man God? In God do we trust, or in man do we trust?” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). He was laying out the deeper meaning behind this debate — saying it was a chance for the House to reassert that it believes there is divine goodness and order in the universe.
If there isn’t, Franks said, “we should just let anarchy prevail because, after all, we are just worm food. So indeed we have the time to reaffirm that God is God and in God do we trust.”
With all that time on their hands, President Obama said, the lawmakers should be moving on aspects of the American Jobs Act.
“In the House of Representatives, what have you guys been doing, John?” Obama said, calling out House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
“You’ve been debating a commemorative coin for baseball. You’ve had legislation reaffirming that ‘In God We Trust’ is our motto. That’s not putting people back to work,” Obama said. “I trust in God, “but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”
The motto “In God We Trust” is credited to Francis Scott Key, who wrote a version of it into a later verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (we usually only sing the first verse).
The motto first appeared on U.S. coins during the Civil War and now is inscribed on all coins and dollar bills.
The motto has withstood legal challenges from groups that said it violated the separation of church and state. Courts have held that the motto is “ceremonial Deism,”not an official endorsement of religion.
Still, just to be sure, Congress voted to reaffirm the motto in 2002. In essence, it passed a new law that said the old law should not be changed one bit. “Make no change in Section 302, Title 36, United States Code,” it ordered then, citing the passage that created the motto.
Then, in 2006, the Senate voted another time, to reaffirm “the concept embodied in the motto.”
So why would the motto need another vote in the House?
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a number of key public officials who — even after the 2002 vote — apparently were confused about what the national motto was,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), the bill’s sponsor.
He was talking, in part, about Obama. In November 2010, in a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, the president said, “In the United States, our motto is E pluribus unum — out of many, one.” That Latin phrase is, indeed, written on the national seal. But it is not the national motto.
Just to be sure there is no misunderstanding, the House voted 396 to 9 Wednesday to re-reaffirm the motto and encourage its display in all public schools and government buildings. One Republican (Justin Amash of Michigan) and eight Democrats voted nay.
Last year, when Democrats controlled the House, they passed more than 250 commemorative resolutions, honoring everything from motherhood to motor homes.
When Republicans took over, they promised that would change. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) set out what aides called “the Cantor Rule.”
“Each day, we will hold ourselves accountable by asking the following questions: Are our efforts addressing job creation and the economy; are they cutting spending; and are they shrinking the size of the federal government while protecting and expanding individual liberty?” Cantor said at the beginning of this term. “If not, why are we doing it?”
So how does this re-reaffirmation fit into that?
A spokesman for Cantor did not offer an explanation when asked for comment. Forbes, the bill’s sponsor, said it would inspire Americans in tough economic times. “Our citizens need that kind of hope,” he said, “and that kind of inspiration.”