"...And to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God and Jesus Christ who died on the cross for all of our sins and then rose on the third day, indivisible, with liberty and justice for most."
--Schoolchildren, "Moral Orel: Omnipresence"
A common piece of trivia invoked by those who would try to undermine separation of church and state, usually under the faulty premise that America is a "Christian nation," is our national motto: "In God We Trust." It's printed on our money, after all, so it must be true. America is, according to our pledge of allegiance, "one nation, under God." Always has been, always will be.
Except, no, it hasn't always been. And hopefully it won't always be.
Prior to the 1950s, the United States had no national motto. In 1782, three mottos were approved to adorn the Great Seal of the United States: "E Pluribus Unum" (from many, one) on the front, "Annuit Cœptis" (approves the things having been begun) and "Novus Ordo Seclorum" (new order of the ages) on the back. Both sides of the Great Seal can be found depicted on the back of the one dollar bill. But though these mottos were approved for the national seal, no act of legislation established a national motto. The phrase "In God We Trust" first started appearing on US currency in 1864, during the Civil War. But still, America had no national motto.
Fast forward to the 1950s. The Cold War was on, and McCarthyism was alive in the American consciousness. In 1954, following two years of lobbying for the change by the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal order), a sermon by Rev. George Docherty convinced President Eisenhower that "under God" should be added to the pledge of allegiance. Two years later, in 1956, "In God We Trust" was adopted as the national motto of the United States by act of Congress.
America was keen to define itself in polar opposition to the Soviets. They were evil; we were good. They had communism; we had capitalism. They had dictatorship; we had democracy. And--we thought--they were atheist; we were Christian. But here we drew the wrong dichotomy.
The problem with the Soviets was not that they denied God, but that the right of the people to free thought was replaced by subservience to the government. Americans confused belief in God with the right to hold that belief. By letting our fear of the enemy translate into government endorsement of a particular religious outlook, we were no better in that regard than the Commies.
The Cold War left us with two terrible threats to our future: an extensive nuclear arsenal, and fodder for the false conception that America is a Christian nation. And the latter may be more dangerous, because it has its finger on trigger of the former. For the good of ourselves and the world, we must disarm, restore separation of church and state by reopening the national motto and pledge of allegiance to all Americans, including those who do not believe in God.
President Eisenhower said, "These words ['under God'] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded." But President Eisenhower was wrong. What makes Americans strong is not their humility before God, but their humility before each other. You and I may disagree on any number of levels (including religion), but as an American I remain humble, refusing to think myself more worthy of freedom than you. And all I ask in return is the same courtesy.