A self-described “non-theistic Satanist” from Illinois is asking the Supreme Court to consider his case to get “In God We Trust” off the money. Kenneth Mayle has been waging this fight for more than a year, hitting legal roadblock after legal roadblock.
Mayle’s argument is straightforward: He says the phrase on money is a way for the government to force a belief in God upon him, “substantially burden[ing]” his free exercise of religion and free speech rights. Also a burden? The $400 filing fee… in part because that’s $400 with “In God We Trust” written on it. One judge even characterized his argument by saying he felt “compelled to proselytize for an official government ideology that professes faith in one ‘God.'”
That same U.S. District Court judge tossed out his complaint last year, saying that each of his claims failed to meet proper standards. She noted how Michael Newdow‘s various challenges to the same religious phrase on the currency had all been thrown out up to this point because the courts generally said the phrase wasn’t a promotion of religion. Atheists might disagree, but there was no legal reason for her to consider this new challenge in any other way. She also said the Supreme Court had “rejected Plaintiff’s argument approximately forty years ago.” Ouch.
Mayle appealed the decision, but the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals basically said the same thing. All three judges affirmed the earlier decision against him. (There were some concerns with their decision, like their claim that plenty of “secular symbols give a nod to the nation’s religious heritage,” including the National Day of Prayer. Seriously.
Those judges also dismissed the idea that Mayle was forced to promote religion against his will by using paper money since he almost always has other options, and even if he didn’t, it’s not like anyone looking at him would think, That guy probably has a $20 in his pocket… which means HE MUST BELIEVE IN GOD.
Mayle asked the full Seventh Circuit to reconsider the case, but they said no. (Why would they when there was really no legal controversy? Every judge had been on the same page to that point.)
That’s why he’s now asking the Supreme Court to give this another look. He’s asking SCOTUS to answer two questions: Was it fair for the other judges to say “In God We Trust” on the money didn’t really violate his religion because he could “hide the money in his pocket”? And isn’t it true the government has not proven that putting the religious phrase on money is “the least restrictive” way to pursue its goals, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?
Mayle, who’s representing himself, says SCOTUS has other reasons for taking up this case. For example, based on the Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop decisions, the courts don’t get to decide what constitutes a “sincere religious belief.” So if he says the phrase on money violates his faith, the courts can’t say it’s not really a big deal.
None of that suggests the Supreme Court will take up this case. It’s not like there’s a debate about the constitutionality of “In God We Trust” in the lower courts. It’s not a pressing matter. It’s not like there’s public pressure for this to be resolved in a different way. It’s just hard to imagine they’ll give this further consideration when every other judge has already ruled pretty decisively against Mayle.
That doesn’t mean he’s wrong on principle. Only that this legal approach seems like a long shot.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier.)