Secular Group Objects to Quotes About God on US Passports

A secular group sent a letter to the U.S. State Department last week to oppose the printing of quotations that refer to God on U.S. passports.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has been protesting religious references on passports since 2007, a press release states.

"We've received so many complaints since the unnecessary intrusion of godly quotes in passports under the Bush Administration," FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "The United States is governed under a secular and godless constitution, and our passports should be secular, too."

The letter, written by FFRF staff attorney Rebecca S. Markert, asks the State Department to provide FFRF with documents from when officials decided to add the quotations to the passports. Markert says the references to God are a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because the documents are issued by the government.

The quotes FFRF takes issue with, listed below, appear in different places throughout the passports:

• "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." - Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
• "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time." - Jefferson Memorial, Thomas Jefferson
• "We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
• "May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world." - Inscribed on the Golden Spike

Jordan Sekulow, executive director for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), says it is constitutional for the quotes to appear on passports. The Establishment Clause, which says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," was not designed to prevent "benign" references to God or faith from being made in government, Sekulow says, and the passport quotes endorse neither a specific faith nor a specific denomination.

"I think what they don't like about it, and why they would want it to be held unconstitutional, is because it disproves their entire point that America somehow has no heritage of God or our history," said Sekulow.

Last year the government issued more than 13 million passports, according to the State Department's website, though that number also includes 1.3 million passport cards, which can only be used to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports of entry. More than 113 million valid passports were in circulation in 2012.

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