The Supreme Court rejected a case brought by atheists seeking to have the U.S. motto, “In God We Trust,” removed from the nation’s currency on Monday.
Lawyer Michael Newdow — who previously filed legal challenges seeking to block the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms and “So help me God” during presidential inaugural oaths — argued the motto represents an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
“By mandating the inscription of facially religious text (i.e. “In God We Trust”) on every coin and currency bill, defendants have turned petitioners — among whom are nine children — into ‘political outsiders’ on the basis of their most fundamental religious tenet,” the activist argued in his brief to the Supreme Court.
Newdow recounted that U.S. currency did not include the inscription for the first 75 years of the country’s existence, but was added during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration in the midst of the Civil War in 1864.
The lawyer cited a report from the Mint Director the previous year, which stated, “We claim to be a Christian nation. Why should we not vindicate our character by honoring the God of Nations, in the exercise of our political Sovereignty as a Nation? Our national coinage should do this. Its legends and devices should declare our trust in God.”
Newdow claimed that for him and his fellow atheist petitioners, the existence of the motto on the currency violates their First Amendment rights by making a religious profession with which they do not agree or wish to promote.
The Supreme Court denied Newdow’s appeal and thereby upheld a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 8th Circuit opinion issued last August reads in part that the Supreme Court previous case law offered an “unequivocal directive” on the matter of references to God by the government: “[T]he Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment] must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings.”
“The Supreme Court has long recognized the ‘unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789,’” the judges added.
In their analysis, they also determined that those handling the currency are in no way being forced to acknowledge the motto is true. In short, atheists are not being coerced “to support or participate in any religion or its exercise.”
In a series of tweets, Eric Rassbach — an attorney with the religious liberty group Becket who submitted a brief in support of keeping the motto on the currency — heralded the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up Newdow’s appeal.
2. Dr. Newdow wants to remove the National Motto from coins because he believes the phrase creates a “religious establishment” — an official state church, like the one in England.
— Eric Rassbach (@ericrassbach) June 10, 2019
“Dr. Newdow wants to remove the National Motto from coins because he believes the phrase creates a ‘religious establishment’ — an official state church, like the one in England,” Rassbach tweeted.
“After losing in the lower courts, Dr. Newdow had appealed to #SCOTUS. This morning the Supreme Court denied the appeal without comment,” he continued. “The result is the right one, but the multi-year process is a grand waste of time and money.”
The Washington Examiner reported that while “In God We Trust” first appeared on coins in 1864, it was not until 1955 that Congress passed legislation requiring the motto to appear on all currency.
A year earlier, President Dwight D. Eisenhower — whose D-Day leadership as supreme allied commander the nation celebrated last week — heard a sermon by a preacher that resulted in the words “under God” being added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rev. George Docherty delivered the message in the Presbyterian church President Abraham Lincoln attended during the Civil War.
The minister honed in on the words “under God” in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, saying it is what separates the United States from totalitarian regimes around the world.
“Now, Lincoln was not being original in that phrase. He was simply reminding the people of the basis upon which the Nation won its freedom in its Declaration of Independence,” Docherty said.
The Declaration references God four times to justify founding the United States, including the words “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the world,” and “divine Providence.”
In his sermon, Docherty acknowledged that atheists can be good citizens and neighbors, “But they really are spiritual parasites. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I’m simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other.”
“These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization, and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow,” Docherty said.
Eisenhower told the preacher after his message, “I agree entirely.”
A few months later, Congress passed and the president signed into law legislation adding “under God” to the pledge.
Eisenhower observed that millions of schoolchildren would from then on be reminded of our country’s “true meaning,” reaffirming “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future” and thereby “strengthen[ing] those spiritual weapons which will forever be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
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