Lawsuit Filed to Remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. Money

Here’s a fun read: A 116 page complaint filed in federal court February 1st. Why is it fun? The plaintiffs say all the things we’ve said for years. FFRF is the lead plaintiff. Its press release, issued late yesterday afternoon, follows the giant upvote.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with 19 other plaintiffs, is suing the U.S. Treasury for stamping “In God We Trust” on currency. Honorary FFRF board member Mike Newdow is acting as legal counsel in the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Feb. 1.

The complaint alleges that the religious verbiage is proselytizing, discriminatory and a per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause.

The complaint, a tour de force of historical research, unequivocally shows that there was a purely religious purpose and intent behind putting God on our coinage. Newdow quotes representatives who voted for the addition as seeking to use the money to proselytize around the world. Rep. Herman P. Eberharter (PA) said: “[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. … the principles laid down by God and the teachings of our way of life should be kept alive in the hearts and minds of our friends enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.”

Plaintiffs are forced to proselytize — by an Act of Congress — for a deity they don’t believe in whenever they handle money.

“Our government is prohibited from endorsing one religion over another but also prohibited from endorsing religion over nonreligion. The placement of a monotheistic ideal on our nation’s currency violates this stricture and is therefore unconstitutional,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

The plaintiffs also point out that “In God We Trust” is discriminatory. The motto necessarily excludes atheists and others who don’t believe in one god or a god. Because it appears on national currency and states “in God we trust,” the phrase necessarily makes full citizenship contingent on the belief provided. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, this sends the “message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’” Santa Fe, 530 U.S. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 309-10 (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668)(O’Connor, J., concurring).

As the complaint points out, a “provision discriminating in a similar manner against Jews, Catholics, women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, or any other minority group would… [n]ever be tolerated.”

About Anne

Civil rights activist Anne Orsi is one of the spokespeople for the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and is the primary organizer of Reason in the Rock, a conference on science, secularism and skepticism. Got a question? Email her at She's a lawyer but may not be licensed in your state. Sending her an email or reading her blog posts does not create an attorney-client relationship. Find Anne on Twitter as @aramink, and read her regular blog at

  • Dave Muscato

    Rock on, Newdow!

  • SpaceGhoti

    Sadly, they’re doing thus under the Roberts court so they’ve scant chance of getting a fair hearing on it. What’s worse, Roberts is likely to lead the Supreme Court for at least another two decades, so there’s really no good time to bring this complaint until we can replace more partisan judges like Scalia.

  • machintelligence

    If we want a half measure (and to include more people, albiet not atheists) why not change it to In Gods We Trust. Surely the religious folk would not object. /snark

  • Art Vandelay

    Cue up the cries of persecution. I can’t wait until the next recession when we get to hear how this never would have happened had we not removed God from our money.

  • Kodie

    I may be really confused from assumptions, but I don’t understand the slogan to mean anything other than the value of the money is trusted. It’s like saying this piece of paper is actually money (trust) that is guaranteed because of god (“I am not a liar”). I think it’s weird to get attached to this statement as it appears on money – “this note is legal tender for all debts public and private” is the guarantee. I don’t understand at all why people are superstitious that the slogan remain on money. Just like I have said about moving Christmas manger scenes from government property, these people have to put UP! Their beliefs are not contained in material objects – if they are, then they can’t maintain that it’s a sacred relationship that happens in their hearts (which is also incorrect but their personal preference of the kind that government cannot define nor infringe upon). They can’t have it both ways. Either it IS idol worship or it’s not.

  • Steven findley

    He failed 10 yrs ago and will fail again!!

    • Glodson

      Great contribution. You really nailed the legal doctrine of “neener neener neener” and added so much to the conversation. I’m sure you have good reasons, legally, why it will fail.

      • iknklast

        Oh, come on, Glodson. Every third grader knows that “neener neener neener” is the argument to end all arguments. Let the children play. We grown ups will sit over here in the corner and watch with an amused smile at their precious antics.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Yeah, well my Dad is bigger than your Dad.

      • David Hart

        Are you thinking of this perhaps?

    • Debbie

      He failed 2 years ago also!

      • Glodson

        Oh man, you guys are great with that legal theory of “hey, that didn’t work even though he is right considering this little thing we call the Bill of Rights.”

  • Justin Whitaker

    As a Secular Buddhist I’ll be happy to see the words removed and I wish the FFRF and others all the best in this endeavor.

  • Alece

    It would be nice, in this time when nearly all of us are having to tighten our belts in this country, to not waste precious resources on stuff like this.

    • David Hart

      When is the right time to fight against an injustice?

      Also, if people in the USA are having to tighten their belts, remember that the government effectively subsidises religion by giving churches all sorts of tax breaks that secular organisations are not entitled to. Taxing the churches at the same rate as comparable organisations would go quite a ways towards improving the economic system. Taking god off the currency won’t achieve that, but it may help bring it a step closer by weakening the idea that the USA is naturally a religion-favouring country.

      Religion is also widely used to underpin the ideology that favours the massive disparities in wealth that affect the USA. The Republican party is a naked alliance of plutocrats and theocrats, and the theocratic wing have been quite effective at tying god to the idea that what’s good for the rich is good for the country. Again, taking god off the currency won’t undo that, but may bring it a step closer.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Why are you wasting precious resources commenting here? Just think what could be done with the electricity you just wasted!

    • John Horstman

      I agree wholeheartedly that the Treasury Department should not waste valuable cash fighting to defend an unconstitutional action. They could save us all a lot of time and cash by simply agreeing to stop stamping “God” on our money.

      Oh, that’s not what you meant…?

  • Chip

    The House resolution passed in late 2011 (that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the national motto) gave Newdow and the FFRF more material from which to make their case. A bit ironic, I suppose.

    I’ve skimmed over the lawsuit … it’s a nice recap of all the ways that the phrase is linked to the “Christian heritage” of the country. Hopefully the suit will be successful this time.

  • billwald

    “God” in English, like “allah” in Arabic is a generic name that doesn’t refer to a specific entity. If anyone wishes to think “The Great Pumpkin” when looking at a coin, have at it.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Good idea. Lets change it to Allah, since they’re both non-specific. Sound good?

      • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

        Or how about “In a deity we trust”, that’s even more non-specific.

        That would definitely get wide-ranging support, as it doesn’t exclude the Christian God while also being inclusive of every other religion, so it can be changed without anyone complaining.

        • Andrew Kohler

          Were it “In a deity we trust,” I’d easily be able to replace “a” with “Mr.” in my mind’s eye every time I saw it ;-)

        • David Hart

          I dunno, that still sounds as if it’s marginalizing the polytheists. How about ‘In one or more deities we trust’? :-P

          • M

            I prefer it to be even more inclusive. What about ‘In one or more deities we trust. Or not.”?

          • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

            In Zero Or More Deities We Trust

        • Rob

          “In something we might trust, if there’s a good reason to” Will it fit on a coin though?

          Maybe “Sometimes we trust something”

          • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

            How about “Some people believe in magic“?

    • John Horstman

      Wrong, dude; when it’s capitalized, it’s considered Yahweh’s official English name. Same goes for “Allah”, which is a linguistic evolution (following the development of Arabic) of the Ancient Hebrew name that we today transliterate (with some guessing about the vowel sounds) as “Yahweh”. God::Yahweh as Jesus::Yeshua. A Muslim wouldn’t refer to, for example, Shiva as “Allah”, nor would a Christian call him “God” (they’d both probably consider him imaginary).

      Also, in specifying exactly one god, the phrase excludes people who believe in more or fewer gods, as was explained in the third sentence of the post, which you probably should have read before commenting.

    • baal

      e. pluribus unim why not go with the original national motto of the founders?
      (from the many, one)
      Putting “in god we trust” on the money is like taking the ‘we the people’ out of the governmental equation.

  • James Glazier

    Speaking as an atheist I think while I understand their reasons for doing so its aa waste of money.Are we as atheists becoming like the fundamentalist christians who will find 1 small thing and do all they can to destroy it if it goes against their beliefs?I say let it be,maybe these fundi christians will see that we have taken the high road and follow suit.

    • Kodie

      maybe these fundi christians will see that we have taken the high road and follow suit.

      A. It’s not fundi, it’s fundiE.
      B. It’s not just fundies, it seems to be any Christian any time anyone wants to promote a secular government.
      C. I have never seen them take backing off as taking the high road. They think nobody minds it and that we’re all embodiments of satan taking their security away.
      D. They are idol worshipers; this ought to be pointed out. Nobody can take their beliefs or change them if the government is neutral with respect to religion.
      E. This is in violation of the establishment clause. If we don’t speak up often and loudly, on the other hand, it establishes a precedent of complacence, and when we act complacent, makes it harder to push back on other maybe more “dire” issues that you think we ought to be focusing on?
      E1. By the way, we are.
      F. The violations of the establishment clause express that this is a Christian nation. This is not a Christian nation. Anything we can do to straighten this out, the sooner, the better. In case you hadn’t noticed, many Christians will cling to whatever subtle interpretation they can to justify considering the US a Christian nation made by Christian founders and documents inspired by biblical teachings. It says on the legal tender, minted by the US Treasury, “In God We Trust” and that’s not really something we can say “but the founders never said that” and “nowhere in the constitution…”
      G. It didn’t seem like such a waste of money back when:
      Whatever the cost, it was important enough at the time, to “place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed.” And to prevent the antiquaries of succeeding centuries reasoning we’re a heathen nation from lack of a hiya to God on our coins!

      That last one is a very good reason to go ahead now and take it off. We’re not a Christian nation, and it doesn’t turn money into a magical protection spell. Not when every time there’s an earthquake or a hurricane or a terrorist, these wackadoos think the gays and abortionists are undermining the power of the money to keep this magical spell that’s supposed to make us stop being gay and having abortions. This is a free will conundrum and idol worship and superstition. God is a very confusing dude who doesn’t seem to make life better, people are just getting hysterical and it’s weird. By the power of one very sincere and appealing letter to the Secretary of Treasury, can’t we have this taken off the money? Why does it have to be deliberated – it’s a violation. See what happens when we “don’t mind” too much, the precedent sticks and even when a case is brought, it is struck down. How much money was spent redesigning the tails of the penny and the nickel and all those state quarters and every failed $1 coin? This is actually important. Does the US government still believe the motto gives magical protection? I don’t want to look at my money and know that’s why my government still won’t take it off.

  • M

    I am not a lawyer. At all. That said, given that “hostile environment” is a sufficient reason to bring and win a sexual discrimination lawsuit, and sex is less protected than religion, could the argument be made that having “In God We Trust” on all our money makes the entire country a hostile environment for non-Christians, especially polytheists and atheists?

  • nnmns

    I didn’t read the case and won’t but I hope they win. We’re somewhat safely removed from an election, which is good. And as a national motto it really sucks. As we realize some don’t believe in any god, some in multiple gods so that should disqualify it. But also I think it’s a fair assumption than many who do believe there is a god don’t trust it. If they did there’d surely be a lot less mental illness. If you trusted the Boss of the Universe to do right by you surely you’d lead a peaceful and happy life, which many monotheists (as well as others) don’t.

  • fwtbc

    It’s a pathetic response, but the fact all the biblethumpers start spouting shit like “if you don’t believe in God, you better not go spending any of that money in your pocket” or “you believe in God enough to use money with His name on it”, etc, is a compelling reason to get rid of it.

    Citizens shouldn’t have their national currency used as a weapon to ridicule them.

    Anyone who followed the Jessica Ahlquist case and read the comments would’ve seen this argument put forward countless times.

  • fsm

    Awesome! Let’s remove those damn words from our secular currency!

  • fightforGod

    You people will Rot in Hell!!! This country was founded on God !!! Go practice your Atheist views some where other than my Country. All Atheist are anticountryman. They are against anything that is
    moral, and good!!! We have a new Secret Weapon- A conservative Pope.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Oh come on, we’ve had some rather entertaining debates with theists around here lately, and we’ve had some rather entertaining trolls. You’re so far below the standard of either I had to consider whether it was even worth my time responding to you. In the end, I realized I could reply to you on my tablet while simultaneously taking a shit, so I know I accomplished something worthwhile in these few seconds. Don’t worry, I’ll put the tablet down before I wipe, and wash my hands before I pick it up again. Hygiene first!

    • Kodie

      You’re the worst kind of Christian.

    • Andrew Kohler

      “We have a new Secret Weapon- A conservative Pope.”

      That weapon is neither secret nor new (or, rather, it’s a new version of an old thing).

      The rest of this comment is a list of cliched canards and is terribly tiresome, as Zinc Avenger notes above. It is difficult to believe that something so cartoonish and silly isn’t a Poe, and if it is a Poe indeed: if you’re going to engage in parody or satire, be open about it, rather than trying to make your opponents look bad by posing as a troll. That’s just rude, really, and also quite unnecessary. And if this is a sincere comment, it is not worth engaging in debate (look up “Atheist Experience” and “Pascal’s Wager” on YouTube).

    • John Horstman

      Not sure if false-flag troll or just that stupid.

    • Glodson

      Please be parody.

      If you are serious, fuck man. Lay off the drugs.

    • sqlrob

      Hope you got an F in history

      As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion

      That line had no debate in Congress.

  • Biomed

    “Some years ago on the gold coins we used to trust in God. It think it was in 1863 that some genious suggested that it be put on the gold and silver coins which circulated among the rich. They didn’t put it on the nickels and coppers because they didn’t think the poor folks had any trust in God….If I remember rightly, the President required or ordered the removal of that sentence from the coins. Well, I didn’t see that the statement ought to remain there. It wasn’t true. But I think it would better read, “Within certain judicious limitations we trust in God, and if there isn’t enough room on the coin for this, why enlarge the coin.”
    - Mark Twain: Speech, 5/14/1908

  • You Can’t Handle The Truth

    I think the front of the bill/coin should say “Keep Your Hands Off My Vagina” and the back should be inscribed thus: “Annuncio Vobis Gaudeum Magnum…Habemus Papam”. (I Announce To You A Great Joy…We Have A Pope).

  • You Are Kidding, Right??

    This is nonsense. Instead of wasting time, energy, and money on something so trivial, how about doing something that will change lives for the better. Start with: feeding the hungry, providing clean drinking water in third world countries, shelter the homeless, end sex trafficking, then go from there. That’s what will make the world a better place, not something as inconsequential as removing a few words from our currency.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Please explain in which ways your comment fed the hungry, provided clean drinking water in third world countries, sheltered the homeless, and ended sex trafficking?

      Because, as you so eloquently state, anything which does not achieve any of the above is worthless.

      Your comment isn’t worthless, is it?

      • You Are Kidding, Right??

        Nowhere did I state any other activity is worthless. I was only making a call to action. The point is – don’t major in the minors.