The Republican sponsor of a resolution reaffirming that "In God We Trust" is the national motto of the U.S. said his legislation is needed because President Obama and other public officials often forget that designation.
"Unfortunately, there are a number of public officials who forget what the national motto is, whether intentionally or unintentionally," Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said in late Tuesday afternoon debate in the House. "There are those who become confused as to whether or not it can still be placed on our buildings, whether it can be placed in our school classrooms.
"Almost a year ago, the president in making a speech across the world said that our national motto was 'E pluribus unum,' " Forbes added. "When the Visitor Center was opened ... they did not have the national motto in there. In fact, they inscribed in the stones that our national motto was 'E pluribus unum.' "
The resolution passed easily Tuesday evening in a 396-9 roll-call vote. Only one Republican voted against it, along with eight Democrats.
Voting against the bill were Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.). Stark is the House's only open atheist.
Two Democrats voted "present" — Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and Mel Watt (D-N.C.).
Nadler was the only Democrat to speak; he said Republicans were turning to the resolution in order to dodge more important issues such as job creation.
"Why have my Republican friends returned to an irrelevant agenda?" he asked, noting that voters want Congress to focus on jobs. "And yet here we are, back to irrelevant issue debates, the kind of thing people do when they have run out of ideas, when they have run out of excuses, when they have nothing to offer a middle class that is hurting and that has run out of patience."
"This is simply an exercise in saying, 'We're more religious than the other people, we're more godly than the other people, and by the way, let's waste time and divert people's attention from the real issues that we're not dealing with,' like unemployment," he said.
Forbes argued back that by dismissing the importance of the resolution, he was dismissing several past U.S. presidents who cited God in various speeches throughout history. "They are far more than words, they are the very fabric that has built and sustained the greatest country the world has ever known," he said.
But Nadler rejected that take.
"Nobody said the national motto ... is just words," Nadler said. "What I said is that this resolution is just words, because nobody is threatening the national motto. It's there. It's on our currency, it's on our walls, it's there. It's our national motto. No one denies that fact. Nothing will change when we pass this resolution. It was our national motto yesterday, it's our national motto today, and it'll be our national motto tomorrow."
Still, Republicans said the increasing attacks against recognition of the motto warrant passage of the resolution. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said a lawsuit in his district challenging the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance went all the way to the Supreme Court, and that there are still active lawsuits related to the use of "God" in public settings.
"This is an important message to reaffirm, it is in fact under attack, we are not wasting time," Lungren.
Lungren and other Republicans agreed that reaffirming the motto is important because the U.S. was built on the understanding that God gives its citizens certain rights, which cannot be taken away by the government.
— This story was updated at 6:54 to reflect the vote and again at 7:15 p.m.