NEW YORK (CBS DC) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled on Wednesday that the use of “In God We Trust” on American currency does not violate the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
In response to a secular lawsuit brought by a primary plaintiff from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the 3-judge panel concluded that the inclusion of the “In God We Trust” motto on U.S. currency does “not have a religious purpose or advance religion, nor does [it] place a substantial burden on appellants’ religious practices,” reads the Second Circuit ruling.
The primary plaintiff in Newdow v. The Congress of the United States, FFRF member Rosalyn Newdow, collected coins for 40 years, but was compelled to stop purchasing the coins because it excludes nonbelievers who are “substantially burdened” by having to use currency with the motto referencing “God.”
“It’s necessary,” FFRF co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, said in a statement, “to remind not just the courts but the public that ‘In God We Trust’ is a Johnny-come-lately motto adopted at the height of the Cold War. It was only officially required on all currency in 1955.”
In 2006, the U.S. Senate reaffirmed “In God we trust” as the national motto, and in 2011, the House passed an additional resolution reaffirming its use as the motto.
“It’s not even an accurate motto,” she continued. “To be accurate, it would have to say, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?”
Gaylor noted that non-believers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population by religious affiliation, at nearly 20 percent — second only to Roman Catholics.
“It creates the dangerous misperception that our republic is based on a god, when in fact it is based on an entirely godless and secular Constitution,” Gaylor continued. “These symbolic violations from the 1950s have damaged respect for the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government.”
But the federal appeals court ruled that money is “fungible and not publicly displayed, [it] does not implicate concerns that its bearer will be forced to proclaim a viewpoint contrary to his own.”
The court also ruled that the use of “In God we trust” on currency could not be challenged under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, reiterating that there is not “substantial burden upon their religious practices or beliefs.”
“Appellants face no such stark choice between a basic benefit and a care belief,” reads the ruling.
“Currency is generally carried in a purse or pocket and need not be displayed to the public,” the court argued, citing a previous ruling against New Hampshire license plates compulsory “Live Free or Die” motto for automobiles.
But Gaylor maintains that the debate is indicative of a much larger debate in America.
“Godless money is a great way to end the argument when someone misguidedly says, ‘God has always been on our money,'” said Gaylor. “I plan to keep trying in the remaining six circuits until we find some federal appellate judges who believe in the principles that underlie our Constitution.”
— Benjamin Fearnow