Judge Throws Out Atheists’ Lawsuit That Would Have Removed ‘In God We Trust’ from U.S. Currency

Earlier this 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:


Anyway. It’s all over now. This week, Judge Harold Baer threw the lawsuit out:

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]

For what it’s worth, I’m still on the side of the plaintiffs — they’re right that the phrase shouldn’t be on the currency. It’s absolutely a statement that favors religion over non-religion and the government shouldn’t be taking that position, but at least for now, there appears to be no legal recourse to change that.

Even though his lawsuits appear frivolous to outsiders (and many atheists, too), I’ve always appreciated the way Newdow, a lawyer himself, never gives a damn about that. He fights on principle even if his credibility seems to shrink every time he goes to court. We just have to make sure there’s no further government establishment of religion that will inevitably become “tradition” within a few years. That’s why we push back against seemingly-petty things like religious city seals and Nativity scenes on public property.

(via Religious Clause)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.