On both, in Latin, is written “E Pluribus Unum” (From many, one).
Not surprisingly, neither the phrase nor the Great Seal excludes Muslims “nisi Muslims,” (except Muslims), nor “nisi’s” any other group.
The reason is that exclusion is in direct opposition to the core spirit of both the Great Seal and E Pluribus Unum — and America itself – and is why many Americans view the immigration order targeting Muslim countries as un-American.
For many Americans, the ban touches on a fundamental American value of plurality. Moreover, barring a proven or imminent threat, Americans expect the executive branch to prioritize its use of power to acting as a long-term trustee of common values, like plurality, over short-term concerns involving policy, including border security.
At the core of these symbols of unity, representing plurality, is tradition and daily lived experience.
Adopted as a de facto American motto in 1776, E Pluribus Unum traditionally represented the merging of many states into one nation. It also signaled a rejection, by the founding fathers, of hundreds of years of European state-sponsored religious persecution and bloodshed.
The contemporary meaning has focused on the concept of the “melting pot,” wherein out of many peoples, religions, languages, traditions, countries of origin and backgrounds Americans are one nation, one people.
In 1956, the phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted as the “official” U.S. motto (note, it does not specify any religion’s God) and yet, pluralism continues at the center of the American experiment.
Essentially plurality means “we the people.” One America.
More important than coins, mottos or traditions, E Pluribus Unum is the living societal norm in the form of a promise, which most exalts individual freedom and autonomy. In other words, plurality is the American promise we are all free to individually pursue the liberty and equality of individual conscience (as long as it doesn’t harm another). And, we are free from prosecution for pursuing our consciences.
Plurality, as a value, is a promise to all. And yet, the focus of plurality is its individual character, not as a passive rule, imposed on the nation, but its active quality in individual daily lives.
The framers of the Constitution brilliantly understood plurality’s individual character does not weaken the moral community. Plurality’s daily effect is just the opposite, it strengthens communal morality.
Individually, by supporting each other’s freedom, to worship, to pursue individual notions of “the good life” – no matter how odd or uncomfortable — we are similarly supporting our own freedom. In doing so, “we the people” (not a ruler) actively navigate an agreement to a moral consensus.
Pressed on all sides by different people we exercise the muscles of plurality by extending to our fellow Americans – as different as they are — the neighborly, but sacred notion “live and let live.”
The constant, nearly unconscious exercising of E Pluribus Unum, renews American democracy, makes it stronger, binding the melting pot nation together. Americans agr ee to not impose any version of how to live as a requirement for living the good life.
Now, more than ever, this one America, of E Pluribus Unum, must take precedence.
Granted, America’s pluralism is an idealistic concept of liberal democracy, a fantastic experiment. Skeptics have described it as foolish since the founding of the nation.
However, even when good intentioned or seemingly justified by “reality,” history has harshly judged the actions of those in power who prioritize short-term security over long-term values, as a weakening of American democracy.
The historical actions viewed through the long-term lens of American pluralism, include banning Jewish immigrants and interning Japanese-Americans during World War II, McCarthyism, and a myriad of unequal historical treatments based on religion, color, creed or national origin, on Indigenous Americans, people of color, Catholics or Irish, etc. … or now Muslims.
Because we exercise it daily, E Pluribus Unum, inscribed on every coin, is also uniquely inscribed within the soul of the character of Americans. The ideal of plurality serves as a long-term safeguard against our own short-term fears and impulses.
In this way, it is also a bright ray of light illuminating America’s way forward in a troubled world. Any action treating this value lightly, no matter how justified, should arouse deeply held questions about who we are.
The executive order tests the long-term idealism of America plurality, in favor of fear and short-term security. Fear, powerful as it may be, is the weaker choice and rightly should be viewed from that perspective, while plurality encompasses the strength of American individualism and national moral character.
That is why many Americans feel the executive order is repellent and reject it.
They are rejecting fear, a nd choosing a fundamental American value, plurality. E Pluribus Unum, written on the coins in your pocket, “we the people.”
All the people. One America.