I was exploring the underworld beneath the cushions of my couch, looking for headphones, when I came upon a stray $1 bill, all wrinkled and crumpled up. Since I hate to see my currency in this shabby state, I took to flattening out the creases as best I could, sliding it down and up the edge of my coffee table, stretching it taut. The delightfully pristine and crisp form with which newly minted bills are printed, I knew, was not a likely outcome in this case. Still, I felt my efforts were justified nonetheless.

As I turned the dollar bill over to admire the backside illustrations, I felt a mild contempt brewing inside me. There it was, the irrational and desperate untruth inscribed near center-top, “In God We Trust.” How did it get there? And why, after so many years, does it still disgrace the money of our secular nation?

The origin of this trifling phrase dates back to the Civil War, when one Reverend Watkinson petitioned the U.S. Treasury to recognize the “Almighty God in some form on our coins.” Perhaps he was motivated by the thought that the North might perish if respect to the deity went unpaid. The request was granted and after a few legitimating sessions of Congress, the “In God We Trust” etching gained legal sanction as the motto for the currency of the United States. Later, in 1956, as the Cold War paranoia of atheistic Communism reached irrational heights, the enlightened 84th Congress made “In God We Trust” the official motto of our nation, replacing the nobler, grander and visionary existing predecessor “E pluribus unum” — or, in English, “Out of many, one.”

Congress’ decision to get rid of our old motto — which was adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782 (regrettably without ever being codified into law) — was a detestable mistake, and perhaps a small tragedy.

Pierre Eugene du Simitiere — a member of the American Philosophical Society — first suggested the “Out of many, one” motto in 1776. Born in Switzerland, yet dying as an American patriot, Simitiere deemed himself a naturalist at a time when even the brilliant Thomas Jefferson was an admitted deist. Simitiere, I venture, would likely have been disgusted by the chintzy religious utterance with which his superior phrase was replaced.

Simitiere’s motto — that out of many, we are one — is more sensible, sane and equally representative. It ought to be changed back.

Brian Gallagher is one out of many.

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