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.)


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!

Gregory Paul on the rise of nonbelief in the U.S.: it’s happening faster than you think

June 3, 2019 • 9:15 am

This article by Gregory Paul in the new journal Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism (click on screenshot for pdf) argues, based on polling data, that the proportion of Americans who are atheists is rising by 5-10% a decade, leading to the conclusion that within a century America will comprise mainly nonbelievers. (Note that the essay is not written very well and has a lot of typos; it may be a draft.)

Of course we know about the rise of “nones”: Americans not formally affiliated with a church A 2015 Pew poll estimated that American “nones” rose from 16% to 23% in only 7 years—between 2007 and 2014. Pew notes that in their survey, “nones” comprised “people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is nothing in particular’”.  While many of these might still believe in a higher power or a deity, I count these, as does Paul, as nonbelievers. The Pew link also shows that the proportion who say their religion is “nothing in particular” among all nones is also declining while atheists and agnostics within that category are increasing.

Those data are in line with Paul’s thesis that nonbelief increases 10% per decade, which he bases on several surveys.

What, unfortunately, did not catch the public’s eye the same year was the more remarkable result from the lesser known RedC’s “Global Index of Religion and Atheism” ( They recorded that Americans who deemed themselves religious nosedived from 73% in 2005 to 60% in 2012 – ouch for the churches.

That result was not a statistical oddity, as verified by another event little noticed even in the atheist community, next year the Harris survey released next “Americans’ Belief in God, Miracles and Heaven Declines: Belief in Darwin’s Theory Rises” ( It measured a consistent rise in four pollings from 2007 to 2013 who did not consider themselves very or somewhat religious from 31 to 42%. Three World Value Survey results track the nons rising from a fifth to a third in a little over a decade.

So three surveys showed an extraordinary tenth of the total population losing their religion in just ten years in the nation that was supposed to never lose its religion.

Furthermore, a 2015 Pew report ( again observed a rise of the unaffiliated at a decadal rate of about a tenth of Americans, to nearly a quarter of the population.

In 2016 the Public Religion Research Institute ( produced nearly the same result. And this year, ABCNews/Washington Post ( measured a one in ten rise in those who lack religion in about a decade and a half. Starting in 2015 the annual Latter Day Saint based American Family Survey is tracking a one or more percent rise in nones each year, and finds that only 43% of Americans consider being religious a core part of their identity ( – in view of such stats continuing to label America a religious nation rings increasingly hollow; although it remains more theistic than most or all other advanced democracies.

So we have seven polling organizations agreeing that freethinking Americans who are not interested in religion or theism are currently going up by around one out of ten of residents in about a decade. That gross value is not, therefore, a statistical fluke limited to one or even two samples. One way or another it is real pattern. The next question is what is actually happening.

Paul considers several alternatives, including that the pattern isn’t real, but in fact it’s more likely that the increase in nonbelief is even more rapid than the surveys show, as people are loath to assert that they’re nonbelievers.  Along with this comes an increase in those who reject creationism and theistic evolution, accepting purely naturalistic evolution. Paul suggests, as I have, that efforts to convert those who reject evolution into those who accept it are not very effective, and it’s better simply to wait for the inevitable rise in secularism that will bring an equally inevitable rise in acceptance of evolution. That’s because once you give up your faith, the main impediment to rejecting evolution—religious belief—is gone.

Why is this happening? Secularism has almost gone to completion in parts of Europe, including Scandinavia and Iceland, and is proceeding apace here. It seems to be a trend in all Western countries save, perhaps, parts of South America. Here are some reasons Paul suggests (I’ve paraphrased them and added my take).

  • The rise of science, which makes supernatural explanations untenable or hard to believe.
  • An increase in people reading the Bible, which, if you read that book rationally, is a great eraser of faith. But Paul gives no evidence that Bible-reading is on the rise.
  • The development of middle-class prosperity via industrialization and capitalization. Paul, oddly enough, sees this effect as drawing people away from church attendance and into open-on-Sunday chains like Walmart.  I think that while the connection between rising well-being and rising secularism (adumbrated a while back by Marx) is real, it’s more likely to happen through the elimination of a need for the supernatural when you have money, healthcare, and other perquisites that reduce your need to accept a god.
  • A self-perpetuating system whereby atheists bring up their children as nonbelievers. That itself wouldn’t increase the proportion of nonbelievers in the U.S. unless we’re outbreeding the faithful, but there may be a ratchet effect whereby the more atheists there are, the more become public, encouraging others to either become nonbelievers or to confess their nonbelief. This, to Paul, is the key to making America a secular nation.

As for what we can do to increase rationality and reduce dependence on religion, Paul suggests this:

Because the rise of proevolution atheism is a largely automatic, casual lifestyle conversion in response to subtle but powerful socioeconomic forces usually done without deep thought, it will remain true that neither side can do much to alter the course of events one way or another.

In view of that future probability, it is advisable that the emphasis of the activist atheist-secular movement (as small as it is and will be) should shift to a substantial but not total degree. The main focus need not to be to promote conversion to rationalism for the simple sake of increasing the number of the nonsupernaturalists, seeing as how modernity is already doing that job about as fast as can be done. Actively convincing those in one tribal worldview to switch to another is very difficult and will produce modest results. Secularists are often criticized for living in their own bubble and not paying sufficient, respectful attention to, and reaching out to, the white heartlander theocons. I personally know a fair number of such people via familial relationships, and believe me they are noncurious folk who care little if at all about the research, opinions or hopes of the intellectual, scientists, or anyone else outside the confines of their bubble which is much tighter than ours. Nor is debating whether aggressive or nonconfrontational tactics are best important because many techniques work depending on the circumstances – let a Darwinian freedom of means of presentation reign. The primary effort should move more towards further changing the political culture, both at the national level, and within the atheist portion.

Regarding the national scene, atheism needs to come out into the open to maximize its societal influence. That in turn requires individuals to come out of the atheocloset enmass. They way to do that is to make atheism increasingly less culturally out of the norm until it is a norm, by boosting comfort and indeed pride in not being a supernaturalist – after all, there should be nothing wrong with thinking and coming to conclusions scientifically, it’s those who delve into irrational speculations about mysterious powers who have issues. All the more so because the best off societies are never highly religious.

Well, yes, we should be doing that, but I think we should be doing a number of things, including teaching evolution and criticizing religion. After all, Richard Dawkins and the other “horsepersons”, through both of those activities, have had an enormous influence in converting people away from faith and towards science. Of course, they do this by coming out publicly as loud and proud atheists, but just saying “I’m a nonbeliever” is, I think, far less powerful than making that statement by arguing why evolution is true and why religion is a crutch made of gossamer.

Atheism as a public movement is waning: I notice far fewer atheist conferences these days. But I think that’s fine. The heavy lifting is done, and the rest—the rise in secularism—is inevitable, for it comes with the rise in well being that Pinker writes so much about. All we should do, as Paul suggests, is to not be hidden about our nonbelief.



The New Yorker praises atheism (sort of)

May 19, 2019 • 10:00 am

UPDATE: James Wood has responded politely to this piece in a comment below, which you can find here.


The article below (click on screenshot), by New Yorker literary critic and Harvard English professor James Wood, is a review of Martin Hägglund’s new book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, but also a paean (of sorts) to secularism and atheism.

I once spent a pleasant few hours with James in a Harvard Square coffeeshop, trying to find out if he thought literature was a “way of knowing” (as I recall, he agreed that we can’t find truths about the universe from literature itself), and I don’t want to be hard on him. Most of his pieces for the magazine are excellent, and his literary judgment is keen. But I think he’s somewhat off the mark in this review. And that is mainly because he takes some gratuitous swipes at New Atheism (and, of course, the Great Satan Dawkins), as well as implying that we don’t need to consider evidence—or, rather, the lack thereof—when we give up religion.

When New Yorker writers bestir themselves to say something good about nonbelief, you can be sure of five things:

1.) They may praise atheism, but they will also diss New Atheism.
2.) They will disdain the need for evidence when deciding whether to be a believer or an atheist. Evidence is irrelevant. This is part of the magazine’s perpetual favoring of the humanities and their “ways of knowing” over science.
3.) They will conflate religion with “passion”. One example came from a piece in the New Yorker that, while praising this website, implied that I was quasi-religious:

If atheists underestimate the fudginess in faith, believers underestimate the soupiness of doubt. My own favorite atheist blogger, Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist, regularly offers unanswerable philippics against the idiocies of intelligent design. But a historian looking at his blog years from now would note that he varies the philippics with a tender stream of images of cats—into whose limited cognition, this dog-lover notes, he projects intelligence and personality quite as blithely as his enemies project design into seashells—and samples of old Motown songs. The articulation of humanism demands something humane, and its signal is disproportionate pleasure placed in some frankly irrational love.

4.) They will show a sneaking sympathy with religious belief and ritual; and
5.) They will lard their arguments with heavy literary knowledge and references

These features are all on view in Wood’s article, and all but #5 are missteps, though, as I said, I think the piece is generally good and certainly worth reading.

According to Wood, the thesis of Hägglund’s book includes these ideas:

a. Religion is bogus, but it’s not bogus just because there is no evidence for gods. In fact, evidence is irrelevant to nonbelief.

b. Religion is bogus because the notion of eternity, which Hägglund sees as inherent in most religions (including Buddhism and Judaism, which don’t have a concept of heaven), is incoherent and, even if comprehensible, is palpably undesirable.

c. Even religious people act as if they’re atheists because they mourn the loss of loved ones who die, and have no concrete notion of seeing them again. This is an attachment to the secular—a hidden atheism.

d. If we reject eternity, and realize that the here and now is all we have, then we must construct our secular values around that notion. Hägglund thinks that this drives us to a form of socialism. Why? Because we are all striving for maximal freedom in our finite existence, and thus must balance our drive for individual freedom with our social duties. According to Hägglund, capitalism is opposed to this by constantly trying to increase our work time and reduce our free time. To counterbalance this, we need a form of democratic socialism that will “reduce, in the aggregate, socially necessary labor time and to increase socially available free time.”

Hägglund’s book, then, is a bipartite meditation on the uselessness of eternity and the need to accept our finitude, and then a set of ideological and political prescriptions on how to construct a society that takes our finitude on board. I’m not going to discuss this part: Wood talks heavily about Marx and Feuerbach, the architects of the kind of society Hägglund wants, and while this is interesting I’m not sure how convincing it is. Even Wood finds the author”s arguments for how to negotiate necessary labor with freedom unconvincing:

Rather than simply replace the realm of necessity with the realm of freedom—which would be impossible anyway, because there is always tedious and burdensome work to be done—we should be able to better “negotiate” the relationship between those realms. Hägglund gives an example of how this might be done when he talks about the way his own work on the book we are reading unites the two realms: writing “This Life” was labor, of course, but it was pursued as an end in itself, as a matter of intellectual inquiry. In a Hägglundian utopia, labor would be part of our freedom.

As Church Lady would say, “isn’t that convenient?” Academics like Hägglund already have that freedom. And Wood stresses the hypocrisy:

An ideal democratic socialism that harmonizes Hägglund’s idea of freedom with the state’s necessarily different idea of freedom will come to America, I guess, not just when the mountain comes to Muhammad but when the tenured academic willingly gives up his Yale chair for a job at New Haven’s Gateway Community College. Like many readers, I get anxious when literary academics use the verb “negotiate” at tricky moments; it forecloses argument, and seldom means actual negotiation. Indeed, Hägglund is unusually weasel-wordy when he concedes that such negotiation will demand “an ongoing democratic conversation.” That’s putting it optimistically.

Indeed. But let’s get to Wood’s criticism of New Atheism. Here’s some of it, channeled through Hägglund’s book (these are Wood’s words):

The problem with eternity is not that it doesn’t exist (Hägglund is uninterested in the pin dancing of proof and disproof) but that it is undesirable and incoherent; it kills meaning and collapses value. This is a difficult truth to learn, because we are naturally fearful of loss, and therefore attached to the idea of eternal restoration.

It’s clear that Wood isn’t interested in evidence, either, calling it “the pin dancing of proof and disproof”. But that’s bogus, for why would one reject eternity at all if you didn’t think that there was no evidence for it? If there were convincing evidence for a heaven, then surely we’d like to know about it and take it on board. If we knew that we would see our loved ones for eternity in some form or another (and yes, considering precisely what form gets you mired in the hinterlands of theology), we’d surely behave differently from how we do—perhaps mourning less when a loved one dies. Wood and Hägglund give plenty of evidence for literary figures showing the kind of mourning that seems inconsistent with a belief in eternity, including C. S. Lewis as well as writers like Primo Levi, Chekhov and Montaigne, but of course some mourning can still be consistent with belief in a heaven. After all, it may be some time before you see your loved ones again—if you even do. (If you believe in reincarnation, you won’t even remember them in the next life.)

It’s almost as if Wood (and Hägglund) don’t think evidence is even relevant to giving up religion: one can instead just say that the notion of heaven is incoherent, many people don’t act as if eternity exists, and therefore there are no gods.

But Wood is right that many religious people act as if this life is all they have. And he’s right that the notion of eternity as limned by various faiths isn’t something we’d really want. But he can’t help going after New Atheism and its dogged insistence on empirical evidence:

The great merit of Hägglund’s book is that he releases atheism from its ancient curse: its sticky intimacy with theism. Hägglund has no need for a parasitical relationship to the host (which, for instance, contaminates the so-called New Atheism), because he’s not interested in disproving the host’s existence. So, instead of being forced into, say, rationalist triumphalism (there is no God, and science is His prophet), he can expand the definition of the secular life so that it incorporates many of the elements traditionally thought of as religious.

This is an explicit criticism of New Atheism by Wood and an explicit rejection of the empirical argument made by people like Dawkins and Hitchens.  But again, that’s bogus. For, after all, why would you even be an atheist unless you were convinced, though a lack of evidence—or in the case of theodicy, positive evidence against a god—that gods and heavens didn’t exist? Only once you have dispensed with the idea of gods and heavens can you then buckle down and do the kind of work that Hägglund prescribes.

Note, too, that Wood calls New Atheism a form of “rationalist triumphalism” (a clear slur) and also gets in a lick against science when he implies that the New Atheist creed is “there is no God and science is His prophet”. This is unworthy of Wood and in fact inimical to his argument. I’d ask both Wood (who may be an atheist; I’m not sure) and Hägglund this question: Why don’t you believe in gods, heaven or eternity?” I’d bet their answer would be “Because there is no evidence for them.” And presto, you’re talking about the arguments of New Atheists.

I see I’m running on here, and can leave the rest of the article to you, but I’ll give one more quote. Again we see Wood apparently agreeing with Hägglund that the trappings of religion may be valuable, or even necessary, for modern humans. There’s also a gratuitous slap at Dawkins, who is apparently the Great Satan of Atheism.

Feuerbach wanted to liberate human beings from their harmful self-deceptions, but Hägglund sees no imperative to disdain this venerable meaning-making projection, no need to close down all the temples and churches and wash them away with a strong dose of Dawkins. Instead, religious practice could be seen as valuable and even cherishable, once it is understood to be a natural human quest for meaning. Everything flows from the double assumption that only finitude makes for ultimate meaning and that most religious values are unconsciously secular. We are meaning-haunted creatures.

This is the old argument that humans need ceremony and bonding, and religion gives us that. My response is that the churches and temples of Scandinavia have been closed down for a long time, and the country is no worse for it. People find their ritual and meaning in many ways, and as the growth of secularism and of the non-churchy “nones” continues even more churches will close of their own accord. And don’t forget that those temples and churches don’t just provide comity: they are often divisive toward those of other faiths, and enforce a kind of morality that is far inferior to secular morality. Not to mention that they buttress the habit of faith: belief without substantial evidence.

The reader who called this article to my attention said that Wood’s piece was “very positive on atheism.” I’m not so sure, and it’s certainly not positive on New Atheism nor its reliance on empirical standards. But you be the judge.

h/t: David

The dramatic increase of secularism in Britain

April 12, 2019 • 1:10 pm

Just a short but heartening report from Humanists UK, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. (The pdf of the report—just an Excel file—can be downloaded here.) The take-home message is that the decline in religiosity in Britain is becoming precipitous, though Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, have increased—but not nearly enough to offset the decline in the majority faith of Christianity:

From the report:

The number of people in Britain who say they have no religion has increased by a staggering 46% over the past seven years, making non-religious people the fastest growing group in the country, according to new figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The data from the ONS, taken from the Annual Population Survey, show the number of non-religious people has increased by nearly a half since 2011 to 39%, with nearly 8 million more people now saying they have no religion.

. . . The results also showed a 15% decline in the number of people who say they are Christian (all denominations). People who said they were Muslim grew by 22%, Jewish 17% and Hindu 13%.

This continues the trend of secularization of the West, though Muslims are bucking that trend, both because they have a fair number of kids and also because of the opprobrium attending leaving the faith. The trend also parallels the finding in the US that “nones” (those who declare no formal religion, but can still believe in God or be “spiritual”) is the fastest-growing category of “faith”.

Humanists UK does note, however, that the question used to estimate religion is biased towards overestimating it, a conclusion that comes from a survey that asks a different—and more revealing—question:

But Humanists UK also raised concerns about the leading question used in the survey which asked ‘What is your religion?’ It has been advocating for the Census question and other survey questions on religion and belief to change to ‘What is your religion, if any?’, as the existing question tends to overestimate religious belief, acting as a measure of weak cultural ties rather than religious belief. The British Social Attitudes Survey, which uses a two-part question, estimates that 52% of British people have no religion.

Good news, I’d say, though Humanists UK still note the prevalence of faith schools (often state supported) and—something I didn’t know—”26 voting places for Church of England in Parliament.”  SERIOUSLY?

I make my prediction again, though I won’t be around to test it: in 200 years religion will have largely disappeared from the West, church attendance will be minuscule, and the remaining religionists, including the Vatican, will be selling off their assets and scrabbling furiously to retain believers.

h/t: Michael

Strong pushback attends Quebec’s proposed ban on wearing of religious symbols by government employees

April 11, 2019 • 12:33 pm

According to many sources, including the CBC article below (click on screenshot), Quebec has proposed a bill (“Bill 21,” which I can’t seem to find on the Internet) that, designed enforce secularity, bans all public servants, including teachers, judges, police officers, and other government officials, from wearing religious symbols. These banned symbols include hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes, and crosses. The bill also requires citizens to uncover their faces when their use public services like municipal transit and the courts (and presumably, though I don’t know for sure, banks). Bill 21 hasn’t yet been passed.

This bill has not yet been enacted, but there’s been substantial protest, with, according to the Montreal Gazette, many more groups against it than for it, even though the Quebecois (is that the plural?) seem more evenly divided. On the plus side one can argue that it helps preserve a secular society, so that religion isn’t entangled with the government. Certainly a policewoman in a hijab would not conform to uniform standards, though I don’t have strong objections to a hijab or a yarmulke hidden under a uniform hat. In this view, government officials must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: a secular dress on the job.

On the negative side, it’s possible that a lot of the sentiment behind this bill is based on bigotry against Muslims, and there are many of them in the province who migrated to Canada from Islamic, French-speaking countries. Religious people are also objecting to the bill on the general grounds that it shows bias against religion, though I don’t pay as much attention to those objections as to ones that suggest it’s singling out just one faith. The Gazette link above details all the various objections, and there were big protests in Montreal (largely Muslims but also some Jews) denouncing Bill 21.

In general, I think the bill is pretty good but not perfect, and I can think of some quibbles. Should teachers also doff their religious symbols in class? I’m pretty much neutral on that one, though leaning in favor of “yes.” I also think it’s more important to have your face uncovered in banks and courts than on buses.  To the objection, “People should be able to wear what they want,” I respond, “There are uniforms mandated for some jobs.” To those who say, “Well, teachers and judges don’t have uniforms mandated except for robes on the judges,” I respond, “But should a child or a defendant worry that they’ll get a fair trial or a bias-free education if the authority figure is flaunting their religion?”

Finally, if religious symbols/clothing can be completely hidden on government officials, I don’t see any problem with it. That allows people to still sport symbols of their faith but not make the public worry that they may be biased, and this solution still effects a separation of one’s job from one’s faith.

The bill is obviously controversial, so I’ll put up a poll with an alternative to the ban with is a “modified ban”, and if you favor that you can explain in the comments. But I’d appreciate comment on this whatever your view.


h/t: Stephen

“In God We Trust” to stay on U.S. currency

August 29, 2018 • 10:15 am

This just in from Reuters (click on screenshot to read it):

The official U.S. motto, “In God We Trust”, became official only in 1956, with “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, one”) having been the unofficial motto—and appearing on the United States Seal—since 1782.  The new motto, which privileges religion over non-religion, is clearly unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment of the Constitution. And, in fact, I am one of many American who doesn’t trust in God, as I don’t think there are any gods. I much prefer E Pluribus Unum, which makes no faith claims. As Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) said, ““To be accurate it would have to read ‘In God Some of us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?”

Nevertheless, with religion waning yet with goddy Republicans wanting to promulgate their faith all over the country, state after state is passing laws mandating that “In God We Trust” be displayed prominently in public schools—laws that are being challenged in court as First Amendment violations as well.

Those cases are yet to be decided, but yesterday a big appeals court rejected atheists’ challenge that “In God We Trust” appearing on all U.S. currency is a constitutional violation. As Reuters reports:

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota rejected claims by 29 atheists, children of atheists and atheist groups that inscribing the national motto on bills and coins violated their First Amendment free speech and religious rights.

While other courts have allowed the motto’s use on currency, Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender said it also did not constitute an establishment of religion under a 2014 Supreme Court decision requiring a review of “historical practices.”

Gruender said the Constitution lets the government celebrate “our tradition of religious freedom,” and that putting the motto on currency “comports with early understandings of the Establishment Clause” without compelling religious observance.

“In God We Trust” began appearing on U.S. coins in 1864 during the Civil War, a period of increased religious sentiment, and was added to paper currencies by the mid-1960s. (here)

President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law making the phrase the national motto in 1956.

Tuesday’s 3-0 decision upheld a Dec. 2016 lower court ruling, though one judge refused to join part of its analysis.

Michael Newdow, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an email called it “utterly revolting” that “the history of governmental denigration of a suspect class should trump [the] principle” that neutrality be the “touchstone” for analyzing claims under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Newdow is also known for unsuccessful litigation challenging the inclusion of “under God” in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.

You can find the full court decision here. A snippet:

Instead, as with other parts of the Bill of Rights, the Court has increasingly returned to a focus on the historical meaning of the Establishment Clause. An early example of this approach is Marsh v. Chambers, where the Court upheld the practice of legislative prayer because it was “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.” 463 U.S. 783, 786 (1983). The history, the Court said, “sheds light not only on what the draftsmen intended the Establishment Clause to mean, but also on how they thought that Clause applied to the practice authorized by the First Congress.” Id. at 790.

This historical approach is now the norm. In Van Orden v. Perry, a plurality of the Court upheld a Ten Commandments display by applying an analysis “driven both by the nature of the monument and by our Nation’s history.” 545 U.S. 677, 686 (2005) (plurality opinion); see also id. at 699-700 (Breyer, J., concurring) (looking to “national traditions” and the monument’s historical context). Similarly, in Hosanna-Tabor—the Court’s first decision addressing the ministerial exception, which is rooted in the Establishment Clause—the Court examined the history of colonial “[c]ontroversies over the selection of ministers,” as well as “two events involving James Madison,” to determine that “[t]he Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers.” 565 U.S. at 183-84. And in Town of Greece—the Court’s most recent Establishment Clause decision—the Court held that “the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings.” Town of Greece, 134 S. Ct. at 1819 (emphasis added). Thus, the Court’s current jurisprudence clearly gives preference to historical analysis over the discredited Lemon test.

This is the same reason the courts have used to keep religious symbols in the public sphere for decades: they’re seen as no longer promulgating religion, but simply a “cultural” motto that reflects American history. But that’s clearly not the case, for why would Republicans and religions be pushing to have the motto installed in the public schools? As a symbol of “national tradition”? Don’t make me laugh!

The FFRF wasn’t part of this case, but I asked Andrew Seidel, one of their attorneys, if he or the FFRF had a comment. Here’s what he said, giving me permission to quote:

Of course, we think the decision is wrong and think “In God We Trust” is undeniably unconstitutional, but getting a court to agree in this climate is unlikely to happen. Right now, public education about the motto — its religious purpose, theocratic inception, and continued religious use — and building public sentiment against the exclusionary sentiment are more likely to succeed than a court challenge.
He added:
As always, I maintain that the legal fiction courts have adopted to permit “In God We Trust” to remain the motto is hypocrisy of the worst kind. You can quote me on that.
And I’ll direct you to Andrew’s Patheos article that I’ve mentioned before, in which Andrew explains this legal fiction and the attendant hypocrisy. Read this as part of your “public education about the motto”:
An excerpt:

In a government where state and church are walled off from one another, federal courts have basically declared that entrusting this world to god is not religious. Imagine for a moment if the courts had declared that John 3:16 or praying the rosary had “no theological or ritualistic” importance because it had been so often repeated. The Religious Right would have had a collective stroke, and rightfully so.

. . . And therein lies the hypocrisy. Christianity benefits when the federal courts declare that “In God We Trust” is not religious, since this allows godly office-holders to use their public office to promote their personal religious agenda. Religious Right groups and activists are perfectly willing to let the government desecrate their religion so long as it also allows them to promote their religion.

I’ll add that the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals is regarded by liberals as one of the most conservative appeals courts in the U.S. It has 17 judges, but only one was not appointed by a Republican President. (And even judge, Jane Kelly, an Obama appointee, ruled in favor of the motto in this case!) Further, three of those who sit on the court were appointed by Trump.

Woe is us.

New Bavarian law mandates crosses in all state offices

April 26, 2018 • 2:45 pm

Bavaria is of course a pretty Catholic area of Germany, but I’m not sure how many Bavarians really believe in God (Bavarians out there should weigh in). Nevertheless, this new law, described in the BBC article below (click on screenshot) seems to violate all canons of secularity.

An excerpt (my emphasis):

The German state of Bavaria has ordered Christian crosses to be placed at the entrances to its public buildings.

Premier Markus Söder said crosses should not be seen as religious symbols but as a “clear avowal of our Bavarian identity and Christian values”.

But opponents said the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU) was trying to score points ahead of October’s election amid fears of a rise of the far right.

Crosses are compulsory in public school classrooms and courtrooms.

The decree, which comes into effect on 1 June, will not affect municipal and federal government buildings in the predominantly Roman Catholic southern state.

Reader Florian tells me that the school cross bit is incorrect, noting that “In 1995 the German Supreme Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) ruled that the Bavarian law mandating crosses in schools was against the Constitution, in particular article 4, which grants freedom of religion. The Bavarian state still stipulates that crosses should be there, but they have to be taken down when people sue.” Clearly Bavaria needs a Freedom from Religion foundation to file these lawsuits! Why should there have to be a lawsuit to remove each separate cross?

As for Söder’s statement that “crosses should not be seen as religious symbols but as a ‘clear avowal of our Bavarian identity and Christian values'”, that’s pure hogwash (or Schweinseife, as I’d say auf Deutsch). How can they be an avowal of Christian values and at the same time not a “religious symbol”? They certainly are symbols—symbols of “Christian values”.

Söder is talking out of both sides of his mouth. It’s even more ridiculous in light of his statement (in German) that “The cross is a fundamental symbol of our Bavarian identity and way of life. He’s not fooling anyone, but clearly pandering to the religious right. This kind of nonsense is also going on in Turkey and India: increasing religiosity of a right-wing government. And then of course there’s the U.S. . . .


This part, however, confuses me:

The decree, which comes into effect on 1 June, will not affect municipal and federal government buildings in the predominantly Roman Catholic southern state.

What is the difference between a public building and a “municipal and federal government building”? The BBC doesn’t explain.

At any rate, these are rear-guard efforts in a West that’s losing its religion. I hope every Bavarian town sues to get the crosses out of the schools, and that this foolish law is overturned.

h/t: Florian

FFRF celebrates 40th anniversary with a full-page ad in the NYT

April 5, 2018 • 2:30 pm

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding by putting a full-page ad in today’s New York Times commemorating “40 years of activism.” Ceiling Cat bless the FFRF, my favorite secular/atheist organization, and if you want to join for a year (and receive the FFRF’s great monthly newspaper), it’s only $40. There are various other options for joining, including a life membership for $1000 (I’d suggest you be no older than 50 for that!). Join here. And tell them that Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) sent you!