A lawsuit filed in Ohio is seeking to remove “In God We Trust” from United States currency, including all paper money and coins. California attorney Michael Newdow, who represents 41 clients Michigan and Ohio, claims the phrase violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The origin of the phrase “In God We Trust” is unclear. However, it is widely believed that it originated with the national anthem of the United States of America.
The phrase “in God is our trust” appears in the fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner — which was originally written as a poem in 1814. Although the line closely resembles the now controversial motto, the phrase likely originated with a 1861 letter from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, minister M. R. Watkinson to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.
In his letter, Watkinson suggests using the phrase “God, Liberty, Law” on United States currency. In addition to making “a beautiful coin,” Watkinson suggested the phrase would “relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism” and would also “place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed.”
As explained by the United States Department of the Treasury, Watkinson’s letter was one of “many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins.”
In response to the growing pressure, Chase ordered the Director of the Mint to develop a short motto — which would be used to honor God on coins minted in the United States.
Two years later, the Director of the Mint presented Chase with new designs for the one and two-cent coins. He also suggested two mottos: “Our Country, Our God” and “God, Our Trust.”
— John S. Weiss (@WeissJsw819) November 12, 2015
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase ultimately chose the phrase “In God We Trust,” which began appearing on one and two-cent coins in 1864.
Over the next 74 years, the phrase was also added to numerous other coins, including the gold double-eagle coin, the silver dollar coin, the half-dollar coin, the quarter-dollar coin, and the nickel three-cent coin. However, “In God We Trust” was not used on all United States coins until 1938.
“In God We Trust” did not appear on paper money until 1957. One year earlier, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the now controversial phrase as the national motto and ordered that it be printed on all paper money.
Although the phrase has been used on United States currency for more than 150 years, it has been criticized as unconstitutional.
Most recently, attorney Michael A. Newdow, who is also minister and founder of the First Amendmist Church of True Science, initiated several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the national motto and its inclusion on United States currency.
In 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the attorney’s claim — referring to Aronow v. United States.
In the 1970 case, which is provided by Open Jurist, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined “the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.”
— The Editor (@TheDailyDigest) January 13, 2016
ABC News reports Michael A. Newdow’s latest lawsuit, which was filed in Akron, will revisit the same questions about the constitutionality of “In God We Trust.” In addition to his lawsuits involving the national motto, Newdow has challenged the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in at least two other lawsuits.
[Image via Shutterstock/Vkilikov]