Standing: A Plaintiff’s Worst Nightmare October 5, 2010

Standing: A Plaintiff’s Worst Nightmare

— by Brittany Meyer

Another day, yet another “God” lawsuit thrown out due to lack of standing.

Recently, The Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the Architect of the Capitol in federal court to get the “In God We Trust” and Pledge of Allegiance engravings removed from the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.

Like my last article on Newdow’s struggle to get “so help me God” taken out of the presidential oath, this case was thrown out on an unfortunate, though needed, procedural technicality. Last week, the case was tossed for lack of standing -– because providing the taxes to pay for the building isn’t enough — FFRF had failed to show that it had been or would be injured by the existence of the engravings.

The judge in this case didn’t rule on the merits, but I will.

At the moment, this lawsuit is premature. Say what you want about references to God in our nation’s government documents, but at issue in this case is a depiction of an established (though, yes, extremely offensive) mainstay of America. The engravings reflect the current state of our national motto, our money and our pledge. FFRF and others should wait until they have successfully eliminated God from the pledge and money before going after the folks who chiseled it into a wall.

And while it doesn’t seem like lawsuits that get to the root of the problem ever do any good, there are victories. One success I know of — because my mother was directly involved with the issue — happened in 2004 when the Los Angeles County seal was redesigned to remove a cross representing LA’s history with Catholic missionaries. They also removed a depiction of a pagan goddess. You can read about that here and here.

Keep up the fight, FFRF, just keep your priorities in order.

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  • I don’t get how people can take ouths that include god when they don’t believe in it. Like when people who are agnostic “at best” get married in a church, lie through their teeth about teh prayers and god stuff, adn tehn think their other vows like to each other mean soemthing.

    Is that a differnt rant? Oh well. 😀

  • Don Rose

    I already started. I cross the word “god” off of all of my paper money, with a sharpie.

    Fiona, I never repeat any of the religious nonsense in any oaths. I don’t worry about what anyone else thinks about it. If they want to debate about it, they’re going to lose.

  • Casey

    I always cross out “god” on my money and put “fsm”, “science”, “reason”, or “his noodly goodness” in its place.

  • To me, standing to sue in a state/church case is a moot issue. That’s because state/church separation is supposed to be a nationwide, federal rule of law. The standing to sue that any US citizen must have in order to bring a state/church case should be merely the fact that they’re a US citizen.

    Religion is clever in how it breaches that wall. The Constitution needs enforcement backed up by some built in consequences for violations, but sadly, with the Bill of Rights anyway, there don’t seem to be safeguards like that.

  • Mer

    Dear “Friendly” Atheist,
    Why does the FFRF find the term “God” so offensive? Is this word/concept not an integral part of our nation’s history, let alone cherished by many people of different faiths? Just curious, because censorship strikes me as rather “un”-friendly.


    “We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike.” –Fahrenheit 451

  • Jack Straw

    Don Rose: Your comment makes me curious to learn more about your lifestyle. That sounds like a time consuming task. Either you have a lot of free time or you have very little money. Has anyone challenged you yet to a debate after seeing you do this?

  • ACN


    “In God We Trust” surplanted the de facto national motto of “E Pluribus Unum” which was only approved explicity to appear on the Great Seal. In 1956, Congress just decided that “In God We Trust” would be the national motto as we had no official national motto. This is a relic of the 1950s move to separate ourselves from the godless communists.

    It is in my mind, as well as the mind of many other atheists, a silly breach of the establishment clause which the courts continue to uphold as harmless “ceremonial deism” as they claim the words have lost any meaning or context through rote repetition.

  • Sinfanti

    Dear Meredith,

    I don’t think it is a matter of offense. Religion has an interesting way of starting small and benign and then once it has a foothold growing into something malignant, kind of like cancer. A prudent doctor will take a preventative measure of removing a seemingly harmless polyp before it has a chance to grow into something worse.

    Also, if you have your finger in a dike I think that’s your own business and probably more fit for a different themed blog.


  • Stephen P


    Why does the FFRF find the term “God” so offensive?

    In this context: because it implies that anyone who does not believe in God is not properly a citizen.

    Is this word/concept not an integral part of our nation’s history…

    Yes. So are slavery and the genocide of native americans. Does this mean that they should they be celebrated on public buildings?

    Just curious, because censorship strikes me as rather “un”-friendly.

    No-one is asking for censorship. Removing this text from a public building is not censorship. Censorship is government preventing people from using this phrase in their own publications or private communications, and no-one is arguing for that.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    ACN wrote: “… a silly breach of the establishment clause which the courts continue to uphold as harmless “ceremonial deism” as they claim the words have lost any meaning or context through rote repetition.”

    Their asinine justifications like that piss me off. They are claiming it’s “lost any meaning”? Then it shouldn’t be so heavily defended, should be replaced by something that actually is meaningful, and shouldn’t be missed. But we of course know it damn well is meaningful (in all the wrong ways), and they do too except when it’s convenient for them to pretend otherwise in writing court decisions that are an affront to rationality.

  • muggle

    Failed to show it had been or could be injurious? What a joke. It injures everyone who doesn’t trust in God to second-class citizenship at best but actually implies we aren’t real Americans and, by doing so, encourages bigotry and hatred towards us from those who do trust in God. This damned decision blows us off as not mattering. Yet again. Sigh.

    FFRF, keep on trucking, baby! We need you!

  • JB Tait

    @Don Rose: Breaking the law defacing money will not change hearts but might engender hostility. This is not a fruitful way to protest.

    When I am required to pledge an oath, I end with “so help me . . . .” and let out my breath at the end. Those who understand my sincerity will hear exactly what I said, and those who want and expect “God” will imagine I said it.

    The whole oath swearing thing is pointless anyway. Those who are honest do not need to declare an oath (nor invoke a god if they have one), and those who will lie will also lie in giving their oath. If you don’t believe God will exact retribution for your testimony and you swear an oath to that effect, you have already lied, and are, therefore tainted by that lie. In general, we should give -less- credence to the oath maker, not more.

    When the used car salesman says, “Would I lie to you?” isn’t that an immediate warning that his pitch might not be an exemplar of truthiness?

    The people who parrot “In God We Trust” seem to be the same protesters who claim the country is a mess. Possibly their trust was misplaced?

    The schizoid (it’s meaningless, but it is important to keep it) and frantic support of the phrase looks to me like a case of whistling in the dark. If it had obvious merit, they wouldn’t have to be so defensive about it. On the other hand, spending tax dollars to deface a monument doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes more sense to deprecate the motto, and then to just let it go when it is time to replace the something it is on.

  • Mer,

    The appropriate stance for the government is to remain mute on matters of religion and leave it up to the citizens to freely practice religion or not.

    Remaining mute is not the same thing as condoning atheism. For example, two of the following would be an inappropriate government intrusion into religion:

    one nation, under God, with liberty…

    one nation, with liberty…

    one nation, under no God, with liberty…

    Can you pick the appropriate one?


  • Ron in Houston

    To all those who mark out God on their money – it’s not very likely that you’d ever be prosecuted, but defacing US currency is a federal crime.

  • keddaw

    Allowing a breach of the Establishment clause to be engraved into a wall is a poor choice. While the money and pledge may be immediately more problematic, long term the wall will be.

    When Christians now point to the money and pledge when arguing in court that religion should be part of the state (e.g. trying to have a nativity scene on public land, or Palin claiming the US is a Christian country) and some judges are keen on that argument.

    Having it chiselled into stone makes this even more likely to happen in future.

  • i am not a lawyer. but i can easily make a case for why religious refs in government harm me. anyone who is gay understands: 99% of the people who kill and bash us is a believer of some type. when the government sanctions their belief, it also sanctions that i should be put to death just for being queer.

  • To all those who mark out God on their money – it’s not very likely that you’d ever be prosecuted, but defacing US currency is a federal crime.

    Actually, it seems to only become a problem if you’re going around defacing money with the intent to defraud the government, ie: by changing the denomination of the coin or bill.

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