Numerous challenges to the words “In God We Trust” printed on American money have failed. However, Michael Newdow is leading the charge against the phrase again — with a new angle. Recent Supreme Court rulings and new laws sweeping the country are giving new hope to those who would have the words removed — and it’s the religious lobby that’s making it possible.
Here’s what’s different: In previous lawsuits, atheists, non-Christians, and secularists have fought for the removal of “In God We Trust” based on a First Amendment argument, referencing the Establishment Clause.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
This is generally interpreted to broadly mean that no government institution (not just specifically Congress, or only federal government) can express a preference for one religion over another, or for religion over non-religion — not just that Congress can’t officially declare a national religion.
There has also been the argument that the phrase is discriminatory, forcing non-Christians to spread a message supporting Christianity with every cash purchase.
In 2013, one such lawsuit was dismissed when, according to KSL, a judge declared that the Supreme Court had repeatedly ruled in favor of “In God We Trust,” maintaining that the phrase has “a secular purpose” as the nation’s motto, and said the plaintiffs had no standing to call for the removal.
What is different about the newest lawsuit, though, is that it incorporates new Religious Freedom laws that maintain the government has no right to burden a person’s religious beliefs without a strong reason. Some of these new laws take Religious Freedom further than any previous version, reducing the amount of “burden” one must have suffered in order to bring a case, and increasing the amount of “compelling reason” the government must have in order to cause said “burden.”
Though these laws have arisen largely due to same-sex marriage and the desire of bakers and florists to be permitted to discriminate freely, they’re being used as well by non-religious groups and individuals to escape certain laws pushed by the religious lobby, such as anti-abortion laws and other conservative-inspired laws like the one against feeding the homeless in public.
Now, these laws will be one basis of the newest suit calling for the removal of “In God We Trust” from the American dollar. Attorney Michael Newdow wrote a guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog explaining his position and calling for supporters to contact him.
“Although the arguments demonstrating that the godly inscriptions violate the Establishment Clause will again be raised, the RFRA claim will (for the first time) be the lead argument in each case. Hopefully, in at least one of those circuits, two appellate judges will be willing to acknowledge the statutory violation.
“If you wish to participate — especially if you have minor children who you think will look back with pride as adults, knowing their parents gave them the opportunity to personally take part in strengthening civil rights in our country — please write to NoMoreIGWT@gmail.com.
It remains to be seen whether these Religious Freedom laws will stand under many of the types of cases brought, particularly those where nondiscrimination laws are also relevant. In these most controversial cases, though — of Satanist abortions and “In God We Trust” — it will be particularly interesting to see how courts handle a conservative Christian-promoted law, designed to protect conservative Christian interests, being used in the exact opposite manner: to oppose conservative laws and promote liberal and secular interest.
Can “In God We Trust” survive religious freedom — if religious freedom is for everyone?
[Photo by: Hugh Pinney/Getty Images]