A federal appeals court has turned away a First Amendment challenge to an “In God We Trust” display at a government building in North Carolina.
Two attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in 2003 against the Davidson County Board of Commissioners for its decision to inscribe the national motto on the façade of the Davidson County Government Center. The lawsuit charged that the large display, visible to motorists on nearby Interstate 85, violates the separation of church and state.
Last year, a U.S. district court dismissed the case. On May 13, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit unanimously upheld the district court’s action.
In Lambeth v. The Board of Commissioners of Davidson County, the 4th Circuit held that the lawsuit failed to prove that the Davidson County board was seeking to advance religion.
Writing for the majority, Judge Robert B. King concluded that federal courts have not found it constitutionally suspect when the phrase, “In God We Trust,” is “used as the national motto on coins and currency, as a ‘patriotic and ceremonial motto’ with ‘no theological or ritualistic impact.’”
In this situation, King wrote, “The reasonable observer must be deemed aware of the patriotic uses, both historical and present of” the motto. Therefore, the judge concluded, most citizens would not see Davidson County’s use as an advancement of religion.