Friday, July 06, 2007

 

House Action of the Day

The words “In God We Trust” may no longer be hidden on newly minted dollar coins, thanks to an amendment to the House Financial Services appropriations bill. —Jackie Kucinich writing in "House passes ‘In God We Trust’ amendment"

This all-important legislation was enacted to correct a grievous problem—

Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said the amendment, which passed yesterday 295-127, aims to correct what he believed was an unintentional error made by Congress when it passed legislation to create the dollar coin in 2005.

“At no point did anyone explain that [the words] would not be on the face of the coin,” Wicker said, leading him to try and correct the issue in this year’s legislation.

The current coin has the words etched on the rim of the coin, obscuring them from view, Wicker said.

I feel better already, don't you?

And the reporting?

Jackie Kucinich's lede sentence merits a comment because it has great potential for misinforming the public, many of whom have only the vaguest notion how Congress works.

First I would quibble with the word "hidden." It seems unlikely that the coin designer was trying to "hide" that sacred phrase. It was simply a design decision. Personally I like to keep a dollar coin in my pocket so I can run my finger along the rim. Observers occasionally misunderstand this behavior.

But a more important matter goes to the heart of the report. My guess is that most readers will assume from the lede sentence that this legislation has been passed and is now law. That is not true. The appropriations bill in some form or other must pass the Senate and be signed by the President. Hence whether "In God We Trust" will be placed on the face of the dollar coin is still in limbo, and you should not stop saying your prayers.

The problem lies with the word "may." It has two quite different senses relative to the sentence above: (1) to be allowed or permitted, and (2) to be likely or possible. So the opening sentence would mean, according to definition (1), "The words 'In God We Trust' will no longer be allowed to be hidden ...," or (2) "It's possible that the words 'In God We Trust' will no longer be hidden ...."

The sentence is true in the latter sense. But we shouldn't have to figure that out.

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