Tuesday, December 07, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Brief history of a motto

We were afraid of something like this. Rep. John Boozman is yet a few weeks away from becoming United States senator from Arkansas and he is already entangled in foolishness. He joined a group of fringe lawmakers in writing and widely circulating a letter to President Obama protesting his reference to “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto.

Boozman and the others want the country to believe that the president has committed heresy in a speech in Indonesia last month in which he invoked the national slogan in an appeal to nations to overcome their religious and cultural differences. The story of America is wrapped up in the motto E Pluribus Unum, he said, and it shows that “hundreds of millions of people who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag.” Is that not a compelling message for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland—well, you can name any hotspot in the world.

What American could quarrel with the sentiment? But Boozman and his colleagues did.

Their motive, of course, is to impugn the president’s faith and contribute to the suspicion on the right that he is secretly a Muslim rather than the Christian he professes to be.

The national motto, Boozman said this week, is “In God We Trust,” and by saying that the motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” the president was refusing to recognize that Americans got their rights from God, the Creator.

Boozman and the others have a very tiny point—Congress did indeed adopt a resolution in 1956 designating “In God We Trust” as the official motto—but they are dead wrong in principle and in motive.

“E Pluribus Unum,” which means “out of many, one,” was the guiding principle in the founding of the nation. The Continental Congress put it on the Great Seal of the United States. The phrase appears by ancient law on all American currency. President Truman ordered the motto to be put on the Coat of Arms of the president of the United States, where it remains. Presidents for two centuries have referred to the slogan reverentially, and no one ever attacked them for it, even if they implied that it was the official motto of the country.

President George W. Bush in 2002 referred to E Pluribus Unum as the nation’s motto in an official proclamation. Boozman and friends never impugned Bush’s faith or patriotism. Their letter to Obama should have upbraided President Ronald Reagan, too. At the National Forum on Education, exactly 27 years ago today, Reagan declared: “The motto of the United States is ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ from many one.”

Reagan was never much of a churchgoer, but no one insinuated that he was a nonbeliever. Only Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama have endured those attacks.

Oh, and Obama has frequently referred to God and the Creator. Only last week in an inspirational message to soldiers in Afghanistan he referred to God as the source of the inalienable human rights in America.

Sen.-elect and Rep. Boozman should stick to his agenda of stopping federal assistance to Arkansas communities and leave spiritual and patriotic matters to the better judgment of his constituents.