by Chuck Colson

       America was embroiled in the Civil War when the Reverend N.R. Watkinson wrote a letter in 1861, the subject of which is still being debated.

       The Pennsylvania pastor wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase urging him to honor God on the nation's coinage, to "place us openly under the Divine protection that we have personally proclaimed."

       In 1864, Congress passed and President Lincoln signed the Mint Act, and the two-cent piece became the first coin bearing the motto, "In God We Trust." Later, President Eisenhower signed legislation putting the phrase on all currency and making it our national motto.

       The motto was birthed in national tragedy. And today, another tragedy, the Columbine massacre, has put the motto at the center of national debate over God's place in public life.

       The flashpoint: A resolution by the Colorado State Board of Education asking public schools to display the motto. The chairman said school violence indicates a need to return to moral precepts in schools, and posting the national motto is a good start.

       The board sees the obvious. Thirty years of attempted value neutrality in public schools have wiped out any notion of right and wrong. Many school textbooks have rewritten American history, expunging the foundational role that religion-particularly Christianity-played in the birth of the nation.

       And when religious principles are expelled from school, we lose the only effective check on anti-social behavior.

       Predictably, the ACLU went ballistic, threatening a lawsuit if any school complies with the Columbine Proposal. I hope some Colorado principal will have the courage to do it. And that the case makes it to the Supreme Court. This could just be the galvanizing force that Americans need to confront the steady erosion of their religious liberties by a Court that is openly hostile to religion.

       Though the Court has never ruled on the motto, three federal appeals courts have ruled that it does not violate the principle of separation of church and state.

       But they used questionable logic to do so. They said that because money is so commonly used, the motto has no religious significance. It's only "ceremonial design," as one court put it.

       But history shows otherwise. In approving it, Treasury Secretary Chase declared, "No nation can be strong except in the strength of God." That's certainly clear enough.

       And the intention of at least three Congresses is clear, as well: "In God We Trust" is not mere sentiment, but bedrock principle. The question before the Court, if the case were argued, would be this: How is it constitutional for the motto to be on government-printed currency that students carry in their pockets at school, and be unconstitutional when displayed on school property?

       Such a ridiculous proposition might finally cause Americans to get serious about the threat to religious liberty posed by hostile court rulings in recent years-including some horrid ones this summer.

       And if our national motto is at risk, we just might get angry enough to demand that legislatures stand up to the activist judges. So, to the Colorado Board of Education I say, "Do it!" And I dare the ACLU to sue.