Supreme Court rejects suit to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency

June 14, 2019 • 10:45 am

A lawsuit involving 29 atheists trying to remove the phrase “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency has failed at the Supreme Court level, as reported by The Washington Examiner and other venues.

The backstory: this phrase, the official motto of the U.S., was established only in 1956 after President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law. Before that, the unofficial motto had been E Pluribus Unum (“out of many, one”), which had been part of the Great Seal of the United States since 1782:

Note that the unofficial motto, a call for unity, was replaced by a motto that would divide Americans along religious lines.

The “Red Scare” and the Cold War of the 1950s bred a chronic discomfort in Americans, and in contrast to the perceived atheism of the Soviet Union, Ike struck back by ordering the new theistic motto put on all U.S. currency and coins. (The Freedom from Religion Foundation [FFRF] still auctions off old “clean” (i.e., godless) currency at its annual convention.)

Voilà:

This lawsuit (see here) has been wending its way through the courts for years. It’s certainly a winner on its face, as having a religious national motto explicitly violates the First Amendment prohibiting government establishment of religion—and that means even acceptance of a God. With the motto, and its appearance on our money, the government has in fact established religion as a national unifying force. No, many of us do not trust in God.

But, as FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel explains in his new book The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American (recommended), the courts have been cagey in dealing with these religious incursions into public life (others include “under God” included in the Pledge of Allegiance, and taxpayer-funded chaplains in the House and Senate, costing us $800,000 a year). These mottos and religious intrusions are seen as “traditions with no religious connotations” by courts—a ploy that only a fool could accept. The Reuters article below gives the history of the lawsuit over the last three years:

And, on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case, in effect affirming the lower courts’ decisions and allowing a religious phrase to remain on U.S. currency (click on screenshot):

Note that in this article, as in many similar reports on right-wing websites (see here and here, for instance), the lawsuit is always called an “atheist challenge”, as if secularists or religionists who accept the First Amendment couldn’t mount such a challenge.

So the Supreme Court won’t even look at a case about a palpably unconstitutional incursion of God into government. That’s no surprise given the conservative court as well as lower court decisions, but it’s maddening that there is a fiction about “in God we trust” not being a religious phrase. When I asked Andrew about this during our discussion of his book on Tuesday, he was pessimistic about anything happening in the courts in the near future, but said that eventually things are going to turn around. That may take a century or more, I think, but it’s time to end these violations of the First Amendment. Here are some I listed for my discussion with Andrew:

  • “One nation under god” in the pledge of allegiance
  • “In God we trust” on the money
  • “God bless America” uttered during the Presidential oath of office (and after every Presidential speech since Nixon first said it during his Watergate fiasco)
  • Chaplains in Congress
  • A prayer room in Congress
  • The National Day of Prayer
  • National Prayer Breakfasts
  • And, of course, all the crosses and Ten Commandments erected on public land.

Wouldn’t it be nice to return to the days of the godless founders, who never would have permitted such stuff. Here, for example, is the first official penny, the “Fugio cent” designed by Benjamin Franklin in 1787. Note the mottos!

Mind your business! LOL!

53 thoughts on “Supreme Court rejects suit to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency

  1. My dad was in the Navy in WWII and stationed in the Pacific. When his ship crossed the International Dateline they had an initiation ceremony for all the crew members who were doing this for the first time. His souvenir from that experience was a dollar bill signed by the captain and other crew members. I still have it and love to show it to people because there is no ‘in god we trust’ on it.

    1. How often (not “if”) are you accused of having fake money when you show this to people?

    2. I think that initiation ceremony took place when a ship crossed the equator, Marilyn, or at least that’s the way I heard it from my old man, who was a swabbie in the Pacific during the War, too.

      A big, harry, beer-bellied petty officer would dress up as Poseidon in the mess hall, spread condiments all over his bare stomach and chest, and the “pollywogs” on their first trip across the equator had to go up and kiss his belly, while the guys behind him pushed his face into the sloppy mess, is the way I heard it anyway. 🙂

      1. Maybe it was done under both circumstances. My dad said the International Dateline and the other stuff with the dollar bill also says it.

  2. It’s astonishing how only religion can get away with claiming “nothing to do with religion”

  3. In your list of “violations” is there some reason why you overlook the phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence? That is, do you find this an acceptable exception or simply too difficult to rectify?

    1. Well, it’s too late to expunge them, and they don’t have any force of law. Andrew talks about them in his book and explains them as not really the kind of Christian theism that people think the nation was founded on. That’s why I didn’t list them. The other cases can still be adjudicated and do have the force of law.

      1. Yes, I fully agree that they’re “not really the kind of Christian theism that people think the nation was founded on,” and it pisses me off when people assert that we’re a “Christian nation.” On the other hand, I don’t equate a belief in God with religion. That is, it may well be that you can’t have a religion without believing in a god, but you can certainly believe in God without having a religion. I’m an example of that, in fact.

        1. Fine. But I gave you the answer you asked for, and American courts have consistently interpreted (with the exceptions I mentioned) belief in God as an “establishment of religion.” That is what matters for our purposes.

        2. But belief in any god — the Christian God or some ill-defined deistic God — is by definition religion. Not necessarily part of “a religion” but a religious belief nonetheless.

          1. “Not necessarily part of ‘a religion’ but a religious belief nonetheless.”

            “Religious” is simply the adjectival form of “religion,” so I don’t see how you can separate a “religious belief” from “a religion.” If “a belief in any god” is not associated with a religion, I’d call it a “transcendental” belief.

            1. “A religion” obviously means a religious group, whether organized or not. It would be meaningless to say that a particular person’s belief in *anything* constitutes “a religion” unless he somehow formalizes it. His belief might properly be described as “religious”. If “transcendental” belief involves some god — a belief in some supernatural beings or forces — then that is “religious” by definition.

        3. Personally, I don’t think you can get to a “God” without a religious tradition taught by your elders. I have a hard time seeig it develop in a vacuum.

          1. “I don’t think you can get to a “God” without a religious tradition taught by your elders. I have a hard time seeig it develop in a vacuum.”

            I wouldn’t call nature “a vacuum,” and can certainly see how it might inspire a belief in the transcendent without the intervention of elders. If you mean the word “God,” however, I agree. Though we’re all reduced to using the term, I consider it something of an abomination.

    2. The other thing I would say about that is that it is the Declaration of Independence. It is not the constitution or anything of that structure. The Declaration is not law and it happened long before the Constitution and for another purpose, mostly to tell the King we were done. The Declaration is mostly full of complaints and grievances against the King. Jefferson even went on a long tale about how the King was responsible for slavery, but they edited that out.

      1. Here’s the fine example of the Foundation Principle that should have been in the Declaration.

        “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

        ~George Mason, The Virginia Declaration of Rights

        This was written and put into Virginia law a few months before Jefferson wrote his version. He certainly knew of Mason’s rhetoric.

        Jefferson’s first draft also did not invoke God …

        “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; That all men are created equal and independent, That from that equal creation they derive rights Inherent and inalienable, among which are the Preservation of life and liberty, and The pursuit of happiness.”

        Adams and Franklin tweaked the draft. Thus, a committee “wrote” it. I have never found a reference claiming or proving why they put God into play.

    3. Since the Declaration of Independence predates the First Amendment by about a decade and a half, it’s hard to claim the D of I was unconstitutional as written. And I don’t think even the most militant American secularists wish to have historical documents (or even portions thereof) disappear down the memory hole.

      1. Is it not just a little odd that people want to refer to the D of I as if it was our master document of government for the states. There was no United States of America and the D of I was not proposed as law. It was a letter to the King – let my people go or let go of my people.

        Even Lincoln liked to refer to the D of I allot – loved all those grand rights.

        1. Hey whaddaya expect, buddy? The D of I is all rhapsodic prose and high-minded ideals. The constitution, OTOH, is (in its main text at least, until you get to the Bill of Rights) nuts and bolts about the branches of government.

      2. “And I don’t think even the most militant American secularists wish to have historical documents (or even portions thereof) disappear down the memory hole.”

        I would hope not, Ken, though I’m reminded of Harvey Milk’s speech at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Celebration in San Francisco:

        “In the Declaration of Independence, it is written, ‘All men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.’ So for Mr. Briggs and Mrs. Bryant, and all the bigots out there, no matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words from the Declaration of Independence!”

        An admirable sentiment, but apparently Milk had no qualms about erasing the words “by their Creator” from the D of I and letting them disappear down the memory hole.

  4. I think a lot of people in small town, middle America would be sincerely puzzled by the “atheist challenge”. They couldn’t care less. From the point of view of these polite citizens, everybody they know goes to a Protestant or Catholic church. They grew up (except the rather elderly) saying the Pledge with the offending word, and care little for politics. To these people, mentioning a violation of the constitution and God in the same sentence makes them sleepy, then they reach for the remote control. Conservative Supreme Court Justices breath the same air.

  5. The only president not to use a religious text for oath of office was John Adams. The second president used a book of English common law instead. He grew up in the theocratic statte of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

  6. I’ve always thought e pluribus unum was a great motto. But I also like Jean Shepherd’s “In God we trust; all others pay cash.” You could add military chaplain’s to your list. It’s probably fair to provide them for troops, but they don’t need to be officers.

    1. You could also add nightly prayers aboard navy ships, and heavy emphasis on Christianity in our military schools. MRFF has been fighting
      this for a very long time, like FFRF in other venues. I don’t know if the church at the Air Force Academy is still open to the public as it needs repairs, but the Christian portion of the church takes up the whole main floor, while the Jewish portion is a small section of downstairs. I can’t recall if they had a place of worship for Muslims.

  7. Since SCOTUS merely declined to hear the case (or “denied the petition for writ of certiorari” in the lingua franca of Supreme Court practice), the decision was not on the merits and is of no precedential value for the next time the question is raised. And raised again, it will be, for there is no intellectually honest way to square the government’s use of these religious slogans with the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

    For the nonce, it may be just as well that cert was denied in the case, since, if put to the task, SCOTUS would likely have upheld the slogan’s constitutionality. The five conservatives on the Court would as lief drink strychnine as purge the Good Lord from Public Life. And I suspect at least some of the four liberal justices would be a bit queasy about going down in the history books as the ones who “banned God.”

    The irony of the situation is that, were such slogans actually “traditions with no religious connotations” (a/k/a mere “ceremonial deism”) as claimed, the religiosi of this nation would be screaming bloody murder — it being akin to taking the name of the Lord in vain. They’re not because the whole rotten, dissembling mess is done with a wink.

      1. SCOTUS receives several thousand requests to hear cases (“petitions for writ of certiorari”) annually, but grants review only in about a hundred such cases every term. In the US, parties may take an appeal as a matter of right from a trial court decision to a mid-level appellate court, but have no right to appeal a second time to the Supreme Court (which would be physically unable to hear so many cases anyway).

        The Supreme Court hears cases as a matter of discretion, and limits its docket to cases that present crucial questions of constitutional and federal statutory interpretation, and to resolving conflicts among the lower federal courts.

  8. It does not surprise me or most I would think. The attitude on this matter is just as upside down in thinking for the republicans as nearly every other issue we can think of. Government without g*d, how could we. Healthcare for all, not in your life. Equality for women, in pay and their health care, you must be kidding. Balanced budget, only when democrats are in charge. Taking of offers from foreign powers, such as Russia, you bet. No collusion.

    1. I don’t know how religious Ike was, but he was a pretty shrewd fellow. My recollection of him (and I was just a young whipper snapper) was that he was a pleasant, admirable, very likeable guy. That, at least, was his image. Methinks he would have taken advice from Graham on this issue because he knew it would enhance his image in the eyes of the masses.

      1. Most of the stuff I have read on Ike in the white house was – he did pretty well on foreign affairs. Kept us out of war for 8 years. Domestically he started the interstate highways. But on social issues or civil rights, he had no interest. He was from Kansas and religion is in the blood down here, believe me.

  9. The Supreme Court’s decision should not be surprising, considering its makeup. For the religious right, nothing is more important than the Court maintaining its pro-religious majority. This is why they ardently support Trump, ignoring the fact that morally he is the opposite of everything they profess. Linda Greenhouse, an NYT columnist and expert on the Court, is fearful that the separation of church and state may soon become a hazy memory.

    She notes that “it’s past time for the rest of us to step back and consider the impact of religion’s current grip on public policy — not only on the right to abortion, but on the availability of insurance coverage for contraception in employer-sponsored health plans and on the right of gay and transgender individuals to obtain medical services without encountering discrimination.” She fears that “the United States is reconfiguring itself into a theocracy that would have appalled our Founding Fathers.”

    In short, while the American public may be coming more secular, religion has its grip on the Supreme Court, meaning that a minority will have the legal sanction to foist its beliefs on everyone else. If Ruth Bader Ginsburg or any of the other three liberal justices should leave while Trump or another Republican holds the presidency, the Court will kowtow to religion for decades to come. Five religionists are bad enough; six or more is horrifying. Perhaps a Democratic president will have the opportunity to replace one right wing judge. Replacing two seems highly improbable for many decades.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/23/opinion/abortion-supreme-court-religion.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

    1. Very true. It is little more than a cluster of Catholics for the Pope. It’s like the Pope took over this country – What could be worse.

  10. And I suspect at least some of the four liberal justices would be a bit queasy about going down in the history books as the ones who “banned God.”

    But wouldn’t the enlightened hold these justices as heroes?

    1. “This is yet another instance of the hypocrisy that so characterizes most religious people.”

      I’m not persuaded that “most religious people” have evolved to the stage of moral development at which hypocrisy is possible.

  11. Tweak one of Franklin’s coined phrases to “Mind Your Own Business” and you have a nice reply to anyone that tells you that you trust in God.

  12. Gosh, I’m glad that I don’t live in the USA with its repressive God-stuff. Here in Australia our ‘democracy’ is only ruled by the head of the church of England (Queen Elizabeth II).

    rz

      1. It is true that one must show up at a voting booth, have one’s name struck off the list, and accept a ballot paper. What one does with the ballot paper is another matter!

      2. IIRC it is an ‘offense’ =not a ‘crime’÷ not to vote in Australia. A bit like parking in the wrong place. You have to pay a small fine, but I’m not sure whether it is enforced,
        The same in Belgium, there is an ‘obligation’ to vote, citizen’s duty, The fine is not enforced there though.

  13. I struggle with these kinds of issues, because while believing in some kind of God is a necessary condition for most of the main religions of the world, its not sufficient. You need miracles, virgin births, prophets, flying ponies to Mecca, etc. Also, some particular holy book that everyone else rejects for some reason. Moreover, one can believe in some kind of God without belonging to any religion–I think Anthony Flew ended up in such a place at the end of his life.

    On the other hand, you have atheists (and atheist sects) that are very certain that they are NOT a religion, and associate “God” with religion (and certainly, with respect to Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism and some forms of Hinduism, perhaps rightly), and they feel offended and put upon by the God language.

    On the other hand, “equality”, especially “equality in the eyes of God”, seems to be inherent to liberal democracy, yet there is nothing in the way of empirical evidence that any two people or two groups of people are in any way equal (if sometimes interchangeable), and yet this does not bother the atheists.

    The Declaration of Independence mentions a “Creator”–is that too religious-ey for atheists? If school children study the Declaration of Independence in school, does that offend separation?

    When does a concept get too religious to step on the toes of atheists (or Buddhists for that matter)?

    I don’t have a particularly strong view either way on this issue, but I am interested in how people who do have a strong view draw the line.

  14. The slogan “e pluribus unum‘ would in the present political climate in the US be as void as ‘in God we trust’, albeit not against the establishment clause.
    Always remind those who favour the latter slogan of the one on the belt buckle of the SS (‘Gott mit Uns’).

Leave a Reply