By Pat Centner, AFA Journal staff writer
June 2002 – Matthew Rothert would have been proud. After nearly 50 years and the onslaught of vast political and social changes in this country, there are today scores of posters proclaiming “In God We Trust” hanging in public school classrooms in Rothert’s home town of Camden, Arkansas.
Rothert, now deceased, is the man primarily responsible for the phrase “In God We Trust” being printed on America’s paper currency. He would undoubtedly be shocked to see the storm of controversy raging in this country today over whether school children should be “exposed” to the declaration he held so dear.
Rothert’s crusade to get “In God We Trust” printed on U.S. currency is an interesting story. Back in the 1940s a serious illness made it impossible for him to hold down a full-time job. His physician suggested he find a hobby to keep himself occupied. As a result, he turned to coin collecting. His interest in coins grew, and Rothert joined the Arkansas Numismatic Society, eventually serving as its president.
Rothert, a religious man, was attending church one day when the offering plate was passed his way. The words “In God We Trust” seemed to jump out at him from one of the coins in the plate. Reflecting on the inscription, Rothert surmised that since this recognition of God was inscribed on America’s coins, why shouldn’t it be printed on paper currency as well? After all, paper bills were more apt to find their way overseas, and Rothert conjectured that the inscription could provide a means for carrying a spiritual message to other nations.
Deciding to go forward with his idea, Rothert’s first step was to present it to the Numismatic Society. The members wholeheartedly agreed, and on November 25, 1953, Rothert wrote a letter to then U.S. Treasury Secretary G. W. Humphrey. He stated his premise that the inscription would help make people both abroad and at home aware of America’s spiritual values. He also wrote President Eisenhower.
The U.S. Financial Assistant Secretary wrote Rothert back, telling him it was feasible for his suggestion to become a reality. Fueled by this encouragement, he began writing letters to senators, congressmen and anyone he believed might advance his cause. As a result, letters of support began to pour in. Arkansas Senators J.W. Fulbright and John McClellan, along with Congressman Oren Harris, supported Rothert in his efforts and helped pave the way for the legislation needed to turn his idea into law.
As the result of this one man’s determination, House Resolution 619, “an act to provide that all United States currency shall bear the inscription ‘In God We Trust,’” was signed into law on June 11, 1955. Congress adopted the declaration as America’s official motto on July 30, 1956.
Nearly five decades later, another Arkansas citizen has conducted a “crusade” of her own. Mary Steed, American Family Radio (AFR) listener, was spurred to action when she heard about AFR’s campaign to place the national motto in every classroom in America.
Steed’s initial goal was to get “In God We Trust” posters placed in her children’s classrooms at Chidester Elementary School. (Chidester is a small community near Camden.) However, school officials were reluctant to allow hanging the posters because they thought it was illegal. Steed was instructed to contact officials in the Camden Fairview School District. She did so, and learned that the issue would need to be presented to the school board.
In researching the legality of posting the motto, Steed contacted Jerry Cox with the Arkansas Family Council (AFC), who offered her great encouragement. AFC staff attorney Martha Adcock provided Steed with information from the Arkansas Code, which states that “local school boards may allow or encourage any teacher or school administrator in a public school district … to read or post ... the national motto.”
Once the school board and administrators learned this, they were very willing to allow posters being placed by teachers opting to do so in classrooms throughout the entire school district. With the help of her cousin, Harlene Morgan, Steed contacted local citizens, who helped provide the funds to purchase 185 posters from AFA.
“I feel there is no other hope besides God for our country,”said Steed, “especially after 9-11. All our children need to realize that we can’t count on any one person for our needs – God is the only constant in our lives.” She added that if one hurting student sees a poster in a classroom, and is reminded that God can help them, her efforts will have been worthwhile.