Atheist lawsuit to take 'In God We Trust' off US Currency

Ahram Online , Sunday 17 Mar 2013

Atheist group claim that 'In God We Trust' motto on currency is violation of First Amendment mounting lawsuit against US Treasury Department

In God We Trust motto
In God We Trust motto (internet)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an American non-profit organisation based in Madison, Wisconsin, along with 19 other plaintiffs, is suing the US Treasury for stamping "In God We Trust" on currency claiming the motto is offensive to non-religious citizens.

FFRF board member Mike Newdow is acting as legal counsel in the suit, which was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on 1 February.

The complaint alleges that the religious statement is proselytising, discriminatory and a per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause, part of the First Amendment.

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 proselytise around the world.

Rep. Herman P. Eberharter (PA) said: "The American dollar travels all over the world, into every country of the world, and frequently gets behind the Iron Curtain, which symbolised the ideological conflict and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991, and if it carries this message 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 proselytise, 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 non-religion. The placement of a monotheistic ideal on our nation's currency violates this stricture and is therefore unconstitutional," FFRF Co-President Dan Barker says on the organization's website.

The plaintiffs backing the cause 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 non-adherents '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.

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... never be tolerated."

This is not the first time that people have taken offense to the presence of this phrase on money. A San Francisco atheist challenged it in 2010, but both of his legal appeals were rejected.

"In God we trust" was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 as an alternative or replacement to the unofficial motto of E pluribus unum, adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782.

"In God we trust" has appeared on most US coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957.

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