The House paused from its focus on job creation Tuesday to reaffirm the national motto “In God We Trust,” making a rare return to social issues that a few lawmakers called a waste of time.
Approved 396-9, the resolution affirms “In God We Trust” and encourages its display in all public buildings, public schools and other government institutions - even though the motto wasn’t facing any legislative threats and was reaffirmed by the Senate five years ago.
While opponents of the measure said it was unnecessary, lead sponsor J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, said he was concerned about how the motto was being treated by the courts, legislators and President Obama.
“I realize there are some who don’t see a difference between what we’re doing from naming a post office or commending some athletic team,” Mr. Forbes said. “But I happen to believe when Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence that our rights came from God, that he didn’t think it was irrelevant or not important.”
It marks the House’s second vote this month on issues associated with social conservatives, after the chamber passed the “Protect Life Act” to enact stricter limits on federal funding for abortion in insurance offered through the new health care exchanges.
As during debates over the Protect Life Act, opponents said it was a distraction from the pressing need to turn around unemployment that continues to linger above 9 percent. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, called the measure pointless, arguing that the motto already is widely supported by most legislators.
“There’s no question that most people in this chamber, maybe everybody in this chamber agrees with the motto ‘In God We Trust,’ ” he said. “I certainly do. There’s no question that this is not threatened. No one is seeking to change it. There’s no necessity for this resolution.”
Congress voted in 1956 to make “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. After it was reaffirmed by the Senate in 2006, the House ran out of time to take up the measure during the session.
Mr. Forbes said he sees “inaccuracies and omissions” regarding the motto. He cited an instance in which President Obama incorrectly labeled E pluribus unum the country’s motto and disputes over whether the motto should be displayed at the Capitol Visitors Center constructed in 2009.
“There are a few who believe that ‘In God We Trust’ is just words, but I would say today it’s more than just words,” Mr. Forbes said. “I would say today that it’s worth defending.”
After gaining majority in the House in 2010, Republicans adopted new rules that banned most symbolic legislation on the grounds that it wasted time. In the previous Congress, one-third of all legislation had consisted of symbolic and commemorative resolutions.
• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at email@example.com.
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