A federal court has ruled that putting the phrase “In God We Trust” on American coins and paper money does not violate the separation of church and state.
On June 12, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. rejected a lawsuit brought by California atheist Michael Newdow. Damrell said use of the phrase has “nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion.”
Damrell, citing previous cases that have upheld use of the motto, observed in his opinion in Newdow v. Congress of the United States, “[T]he national motto is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto ‘has no theological or ritualistic impact’ and is of a purely secular, ‘patriotic’ and ‘ceremonial character.’”
Newdow, a physician and attorney, is also challenging the use of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. His case reached the Supreme Court in 2004, but the justices tossed it out, declaring that Newdow lacked proper standing.
According to the Religion News Service, Newdow has vowed to appeal the latest ruling.
“It’s such a fraud,” he said. “In this nation that’s supposed to be this beacon of religious liberty, a bastion of equality. What’s next? ‘In Jesus We Trust’? ‘In Protestantism We Trust’?”
“In God We Trust” first appeared on coins during the Civil War. It was not mandated for use on coins until 1908 and on paper money in 1957.
In other news about religious mottoes:
• Florida has a new law designating “In God We Trust” as the official state motto. The provision passed both chambers of the state legislature without objection. Until the law passed, the state had no official motto but used “In God We Trust” informally.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Greg Evers, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the idea for the legislation came from schoolchildren. Evers said the students noticed that the motto was being used informally and that he urged them to promote the bill to learn about how the legislative process works.
• Ohio public school students returning to class this fall may see something new in their classrooms: posters reading “In God We Trust” or “With God All Things Are Possible.”
Ohio lawmakers in May passed a bill requiring public schools to post one or both of the mottoes in 8.5-by-11 inch frames. The law stipulates that the mottoes be purchased with private funds. (“With God All Things Are Possible” is Ohio’s state motto.)
“The goal is to make sure that students have a basis to talk about the historical aspects of how this country was founded,” state Rep. Keith Faber, who sponsored the bill, told Religion News Service. “I don’t think the mottoes are necessarily religiously based.”