Peter J. Smith


‘In God We Trust’ will stay on U.S. coins after Supreme Court rejects appeal

Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 8, 2011 ( – The U.S. Supreme Court has denied an atheist’s legal challenge to the national motto “In God We Trust” imprinted on U.S. currency, thereby letting a federal appeals court ruling that the references to God are constitutional stand.

The case was brought by Michael Newdow, an atheist who has brought repeated legal action against the federal government over references to God. Newdow was dubbed by TIME magazine as “America’s least favorite atheist” and also has legal action pending against the federal government claiming that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional, because it states that the United States is one nation “under God.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a three-judge appeals panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals under Judge Carlos Bea had ruled against Newdow, quoting prior court precedent that stated the national motto has a “patriotic or ceremonial character” and “no theological or ritualistic impact.”

The same appeals court panel also ruled the Pledge of Allegiance “under God” reference as constitutional. Newdow has also appealed that case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Chronicle reports that the Supreme Court is not the end of the road for Newdow. The atheist says he will now just re-file the case in another federal jurisdiction in hopes of finally getting his case heard by the high court.

Newdow claims that the currency amounts to an endorsement of religion, which he says violates his rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits Congress from making a law establishing religion.

However, the origin of that amendment is attributed by historians to the founding fathers’ desire to avoid an official federally-supported church, like the Church of England, and was not intended to exclude religious expression in public life.

In July 2010, another federal appeals court in the District of Columbia ruled 3-0 in favor the national motto’s constitutionality under the First Amendment.

“It is quite obvious that the national motto and slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion,” wrote the panel, quoting the 1970 decision, Aronow v. United States.

“In God We Trust” became the National Motto in 1956 by an Act of Congress during the Cold War and the U.S. struggle with communism.

The motto had previously been an unofficial U.S. motto, appearing in the final stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner (“And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust’”), written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. The first stanza of that song is the U.S. National Anthem. The words “In God We Trust” have appeared on coinage ever since Congress approved its imprinting on coins in 1865.

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