God first got his 2 cents in about U.S. money in 1864.
That's when the U.S. Mint rolled out the first 2-cent coins bearing "In God We Trust," as authorized by an act of Congress.
History hasn't recorded God's take on it -- all we have is what his Son said years before about mixing God and mammon and rendering separately to God and Caesar.
What the U.S. Treasury does tell us is that Civil War-era Secretary Salmon P. Chase moved to put a religious motto on our money after hearing from many devout Americans, the first being a minister who said that it would "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism" and that "no possible citizen could object." (1.usa.gov/tNJakz)
The proposal went to Congress, which passed the Coinage Act of 1864; President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law.
It wasn't until 1956 that "In God We Trust" became the national motto. It appeared on silver certificates in 1957 and was phased in for other bills, finally making it to the backs of Benjamins in 1966.
The thing is, invoking God on our instruments of commerce has done little to save our society from a multitude of vices. The God-fearing as well as the godless invest mightily in any number of activities that are enough to make God weep. And I doubt that anyone resorts to a credit card when engaging in naughtiness in order to avoid the guilt trip of sullying the Deity's name by paying cash.
Still, I understand the symbolism. It remains powerful. And that's true even though a federal appeals court, in rejecting a challenge to the motto, wrote in 2011 that the phrase carries patriotic value, even "inspirational quality," but has "no theological or ritualistic impact."
You can secularize the words to avoid constitutional conflict, but many people still consider them religious.
That's got to be why GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney the other day pretended that "In God We Trust" is at stake in the election.
Speaking in Virginia over the weekend, Romney first referred to "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, then he cashed in: "I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins. And I will not take God out of my heart." (bit.ly/PjslcU)
The Democrats invited part of that smack by bumbling over mention of God in their platform and embarrassing themselves in the very public manner they tried to repair the gaffe. Who could blame Romney for seizing the opportunity?
But the bit about taking God off the coins just spreads trepidation and misinformation.
No one with any clout has proposed erasing the national motto from our money. There's nothing to gain, and the country has real problems to solve. These days, the major concern about money design is outwitting counterfeiters.
The Obama campaign tsked that Romney had tried a "Hail Mary." That groaner wasn't a religious allusion but a football one, referring to the quarterback launching a desperation pass on a wing and a prayer to the end zone.
Could both campaigns please have the decency to treat God and faith with respect, not merely as political currency?