A group of atheists led by Michael Newdow is suing the U.S. Treasury for putting “In God We Trust” on our money. Newdow, of course, famously and unsuccessfully fought to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance nearly a decade ago.
The complaint (PDF) was filed last month in a New York district court by Newdow, his mother, the New York City Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, several families (with children), and several others. Defendants include the U.S. Congress and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
It’s freakishly long, too. 116 pages in all. And the plaintiffs’ stories… well, let’s just say the general public is going to have a hard time taking them seriously:
[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.
Plaintiff [Julie] Woodward is also a teacher who has, at times, taught the mathematics of coins and currency to elementary school children. With “In God We Trust” on each monetary instrument, she is personally placed in the uncomfortable position of being complicit in the teaching of what she believes is a religious statement to her students.
It goes on like that for a while.
I don’t think religious Americans, nor many other atheists, are shedding tears anytime soon over the fact that the plaintiffs find it burdensome to have and spend and deal with money. (Hell, if they have a problem with it, I would be happy to help take it off their hands…)
Beyond that, though, the document is actually a fascinating history of how and why the phrase is on our currency. Like this comment from former Representative Herman Eberharter (D-PA):
[T]he American dollar travels all over the world, into every country of the world, and frequently gets behind the Iron Curtain, and if it carries this message in that way I think it would be very good. I think that is one of the most compelling reasons why we should put it on our currency.
So why are they ultimately suing?
For a number of reasons, including:
- The defendants have “established monotheism”
- The defendants have violated plaintiffs’ equal protection rights
- Secular justifications for the defendants’ actions are shams
The appendix to the case even includes this graphic, showing the dramatic increase in mentions of the word “religion” in the Congressional Record from 1949 – 1959:
These data clearly reveal the increased influence and involvement of religion in government (and of government in religion) that occurred contemporaneously with Congress mandating “In God We Trust” on the money and as the national motto.
As much as I’d love for the atheists to win, this case will likely be rejected as frivolous (says me, the non-lawyer). They’ll say “In God We Trust” is tradition. They’ll say it’s our country’s motto. They’ll say it’s “Ceremonial Deism.”
For what it’s worth, the phrase was challenged in 1970 in the case of Aronow v. United States. Back then, the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals ruled:
It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency “In God We Trust” has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.
You don’t have to agree with it, but the courts have ruled on it. And they’ll likely make the same arguments again this time.
They’re not going to take God off the money.
Sorry to let you all down.
Good effort, though…
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