"IN GOD WE TRUST
" first appeared on the obverse side of the Two-cent piece
The patriotic anthem Chester, composed by William Billings for his 1770 songbook The New England Psalm Singer and sung during the American Revolutionary War, has a similar phrase in its lyric:
Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav'ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.
In 1860, the phrase was used in the coat of arms of New Westminster, Canada. During the American Civil War, the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry for the Union Army assumed the motto "In God we trust" in early August 1862. William W. Wallace, coiner, circa August 1862, of the motto "In God We Trust" was Captain of Company C of the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Mark R. Watkinson of '
Ridleyville', Pennsylvania, (pastor of Prospect Hill Baptist Church in present-day Prospect Park, Pennsylvania) in a letter dated November 13, 1861, petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing "Almighty God in some form on our coins" in order to "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism". At least part of the motivation was to declare that God was on the Union side of the Civil War. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase acted on this proposal and directed the then-Philadelphia Director of the Mint, James Pollock, to begin drawing up possible designs that would include the religious phrase. Chase chose his favorite designs and presented a proposal to Congress for the new designs in late 1863.
In December 1863, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury decided on a new motto, "In God We Trust," to engrave on U.S. coins. Lincoln's involvement in this decision is unclear.
A version of the motto made an early appearance on obverse side of the twenty dollar interest bearing note issued in 1864 along with the motto "God and our Right".
As Chase was preparing his recommendation to Congress, it was found that the Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States. This meant that the mint could make no changes without the enactment of additional legislation by the Congress. Such legislation was introduced and passed as the Coinage Act of 1864 on April 22, 1864, allowing the Secretary of the Treasury to authorize the inclusion of the phrase on one-cent and two-cent coins.
An Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1865, allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary's approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that "shall admit the inscription thereon". In 1873, Congress passed the Coinage Act, granting that the Secretary of the Treasury "may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto".
A similar phrase, 'In God is our Trust', appears in "The Star-Spangled Banner", the song adopted as the national anthem of the United States in 1931. Written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, the fourth stanza includes the words, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our Trust'".
The reverse of the Morgan dollar
presented the lower-cased "In God we trust"
A quarter dollar
with the United States' official motto "IN GOD WE TRUST
" on the obverse side
After use of the motto on coins began during the 1860's, there have been some coins on which the motto did not appear. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938. However, at least two other coins minted in every year in the interim still bore the motto, including the Morgan dollar and the Seated Liberty half dollar. The omission of the motto "In God We Trust" on the Indian Head eagle coin caused public outrage, and prompted Congress to pass a bill mandating its inclusion. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber added the words and made minor modifications to the design. In 1908, Congress made it mandatory that the phrase be printed on all coins upon which it had previously appeared. This decision was motivated after a public outcry following the release of a $20 coin which did not bear the motto. The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908. Since 1938, all US coins have borne the motto.
During the Cold War era, the government of the United States sought to distinguish itself from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism and thus implemented antireligious legislation. The 84th Congress passed a joint resolution "declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States". The resolution passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and without debate. H.R. 619, a bill that required that the inscription "In God we trust" appear on all paper and coin currency, was signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.. The United States Code at § 302, now states: "'In God we trust' is the national motto."
On paper currency, it first appeared on the silver certificate in 1957, followed by other certificates. Federal Reserve Notes and United States Notes were circulated with the motto starting from 1964 to 1966, depending on the denomination. (Of these, only Federal Reserve Notes are still circulated.)
Representative Charles Edward Bennett of Florida cited the Cold War when he introduced the bill in the House, saying "In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom".
Aronow v. United States was the first case to challenge the inclusion of "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency. The law it challenged was "31 U.S.C. § 324a "the inscription 'In God we Trust'...shall appear on all United States currency and coins". O'Hair v. Blumenthal (1978) challenged the inclusion of the phrase "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency. A similar decision was reached by the Fifth Circuit in Madalyn Murray O'Hair vs W. Michael Blumenthal in 1979, which affirmed that the "primary purpose of the slogan was secular".
In March 2001, Governor of Mississippi Ronnie Musgrove signed legislation requiring the motto "In God We Trust" to be displayed in every public school classroom, as well as the school auditoriums and cafeterias, throughout the state.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, many public schools across the United States posted "In God We Trust" framed posters in their "libraries, cafeterias and classrooms". The American Family Association supplied several 11-by-14-inch posters to school systems and vowed to defend any legal challenges to the displaying of the posters.
According to a 2003 joint poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 90% of Americans support the inscription "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins.
In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of its adoption, the Senate reaffirmed "In God We Trust" as the official national motto of the United States of America. In Florida House Bill no. 1145, Florida adopted 'In God We Trust' as the official state motto, effective July 1, 2006.
In 2011 the House of Representatives passed an additional resolution reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the official motto of the United States, in a 396–9 vote.
In 2013, a federal court rejected a challenge, brought by Michael Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to remove "In God We Trust" from American currency.
On January 31, 2014, purporting to defend religious freedom, the Mississippi senate voted to add the words, "In God We Trust" to the state seal and the change was made effective on July 1, 2014.
In 2015 the county police department of Jefferson County, Illinois announced that the words "In God We Trust" will be on police squad cars. In 2015, the Freedom from Religion Foundation demanded that local authorities remove decals of the motto from Childress, Texas Police Department patrol vehicles. In response, Police Chief Adrian Garcia told the organization, in a written letter, to "go fly a kite."
In March 2017, Act 911, sponsored by State Rep. Jim Dotson, made it a requirement of Arkansas state law for schools to display posters with the national motto ("In God We Trust").
Also in March, the same requirement was enacted  in Kentucky schools for the 2019-2020 school year requiring the slogan to be displayed "in a prominent location." To protest the requirement, Fayette County Public Schools (Kentucky) in Lexington, KY complied by posting a framed United States one-dollar bill which bears the slogan.
In early 2018, Kimberly Daniels, a pastor who currently serves as the representative for Florida House of Representatives District 14 as a member of the Democratic Party, introduced HB 839, a bill that requires public schools to display the motto "In God We Trust" in a conspicuous place. On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, the bill received unanimous approval from the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Later, in a vote on February 21, 2018, the bill passed 97 to 10 in the House. As part of Florida's March 2018 K-12 education law, Gov. Rick Scott mandated that all public schools post the state motto ("In God We Trust") in a prominent location.
In March 2018, a bill requiring Tennessee schools to prominently display the national motto ("In God We Trust") sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn passed the state House with 81 of the 99 members voting in favor of it.
In June 2019, the Bakersfield, California City Council voted 4-2 to put an "In God We Trust" sticker on the city's police and fire vehicles. The issue was debated for two hours by 19 people including a lawyer from the ACLU