Last year, Michael Newdow, the atheist who took his case to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States Supreme Court nearly a decade ago, filed a complaint in a New York district court in order to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency:
The plaintiffs included Newdow, his mother, the New York City Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, several families (with children), while the defendants included the U.S. Congress and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
At the time, I wrote that I didn’t think anyone would really take the complaint seriously, legal arguments notwithstanding, especially after seeing the list of “damages” incurred by the plaintiffs:
[Rosalyn Newdow] is a numismatist, whose purchases of coin sets from Defendant United States Mint date back at least forty years. Because of the “In God We Trust” verbiage, however, she has felt obligated to stop purchasing the coin sets, thus being deprived of the pleasure and the investment opportunity she would otherwise partake of.
[Kenneth Bronstein] is a numismatist, whose purchases of coins from Defendant United States Mint date back over sixty years. Because of the “In God We Trust” verbiage, however, he has opted not to purchase some coins, thus being deprived of an investment opportunity as well as the enjoyment of the hobby.
[Benjamin Dreidel] has personally been unwillingly forced to confront the “In God We Trust” verbiage whenever he gazes at the coins and currency bills he uses in general commerce in this judicial district.
[Plaintiff Neil Graham] feels the “In God We Trust” language is so alienating that he has altered his behavior to use as little cash as possible.
Yep, I’m sure people everywhere had the same reaction to that:
NOOOOO, NOT MY COIN COLLECTION!
That’s how Judge Harold Baer felt, anyway, as he threw the lawsuit out in September:
The Supreme Court has repeatedly assumed the motto’s secular purpose and effect, and all circuit courts that have considered this issue — namely the Ninth, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuit — have found no constitutional violation in the motto’s inclusion on currency.
Each circuit court that has considered the issue found no Establishment Clause violation in the motto’s placement on currency, finding ceremonial or secular purposes and no religious effect or endorsement.
While Plaintiffs may be inconvenienced or offended by the appearance of the motto on currency, these burdens are a far cry from the coercion, penalty, or denial of benefits required under the “substantial burden” standard. As such, the inclusion of the motto on currency does not present a violation to the Free Exercise Clause or [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]
Despite the setback, Newdow and his allies took the case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. They wanted the ruling overturned.
Yesterday, a three-judge panel also told Newdow to just go away, writing that his lawsuit had no merit:
We have never addressed the question of whether the inclusion of the words “In God We Trust” on United States currency violates the Constitution or RFRA and write today to clarify the law on this issue. Four other circuit courts have ruled on this question, however, and have found that the statutes at issue do not contravene the Constitution… We agree with our sister circuits and hold that 31 U.S.C. §§ 5112(d)(1) and 5114(b) do not violate the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is affirmed.
FFRF, as you can imagine, wasn’t happy with the ruling:
“It’s necessary to remind not just the courts but the public that ‘In God We Trust’ is a Johnny-come-lately motto adopted at the height of the Cold War. It was only officially required on all currency in 1955,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
“It’s not even an accurate motto. To be accurate, it would have to say, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?” she said, pointing out that today nonbelievers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification, approaching 20% — the second largest “denomination” after Roman Catholics.
“It creates the dangerous misperception that our republic is based on a god, when in fact it is based on an entirely godless and secular Constitution. These symbolic violations from the 1950s have damaged respect for the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government.“
American Atheists, not involved with this lawsuit, also expressed disapproval with the decision:
“Tradition is a terrible excuse for any behavior,” said American Atheists spokesman David Muscato. “If we allowed ‘tradition’ to guide our views, what else would we uphold — slavery, denying the vote to women? The simple fact is that ‘In God We Trust’ has no rightful place on currency in the United States, a country with separation of church and state, and it never has.“
That’s quite the jump there, from words on currency to owning humans and disenfranchising women… but you get what he’s saying.
To be clear, I still think Newdow is right — but on principle, not because he or the other plaintiffs actually suffer because of the phrase. “In God We Trust” is a statement that favors religion over non-religion and the government shouldn’t be taking that position. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any good legal recourse to change that.
It’s not going to stop Newdow, though. He says he’ll just try again in a different part of the country:
“I plan to keep trying in the remaining six circuits until we find some federal appellate judges who believe in the principles that underlie our Constitution.”
(Large parts of this article were posted earlier)