This may be ‘more’ unconstitutional than it is on money.
It certainly reveals the man behind the curtain with the coins in your pocket.
The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 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 patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.” The decision was cited in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, a 2004 case on the Pledge of Allegiance. These acts of “ceremonial deism” are “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.”
These coins are not meant to be used as money. From wikipedia:
A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion (usually military), bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. They are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. In addition, they are also collected by service members.
Notice the Buddhist Wheel? That is the symbol used by the single Buddhist military chaplain, so it makes sense in this limited public forum. But many Buddhists don’t believe in any gods whatsoever. I’d argue against referring to them as atheists, as it still is clearly a religion. The religious jargon is very thick here, nearly indecipherable.
However, the chaplaincy itself is in desperate need to embrace all religious preferences equally – including allowing non-religious groups to use their community-building resources (buildings, systems of collecting money, outreach). The Spiritual Fitness testing and training (mandatory for all) even tried to claim that chaplains are advocates for everyone regardless of beliefs. It is our hope that this will become true, but as it stands atheist groups are banned on every post – because of chaplain regulations.
The Establishment Clause has repeatedly been upheld to mean this:
Government can’t favor one religion over another. Additionally, government can’t favor religion over non-religion.
So the slogan “in god we trust” is just as problematic as it is on our money. Atheists also outnumber Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist in the military, and by a large margin. We deserve recognition and a seat at the same table as our religious counter-parts. Atheism is not a religion and nothing can ever make it one. But the government must still give atheists the same level of support as any other group, and right now we are not getting that from the chaplaincy.
I’ve been specifically denied the right to put out a pamphlet at chapels about our group. I’ve been denied the right to be represented on a mural outside a hospital on the border of Iraq/Kuwait (pretty much the same symbols on the coin were spray painted on a concrete barrier… just wanted to put an atheist symbol right there next to them.) We’re all still denied the right to meaningfully meet on post, or have access to group-sustaining features that all others get.
Promising things have happened recently, and perhaps we’ll soon be able to make these smaller corrections. I can’t see how rote repetition could possibly cause these coins to lose their religious significance, so we have time. It appears that a constitutional challenge would be an easy win.
“The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion does not just apply to the mainstream faith groups. It also applies to atheists, secularists, freethinkers…
A denial of constitutional rights to one threatens the constitutional rights of all.” – USAFA Chaplain (Colonel) Robert Bruno
We’ve got a lot more important work to do before going after these coins. But at least there are members of the chaplaincy that clearly get it. The Constitution is important to all Americans, even religious citizens.