In God We (Don’t) Trust

A challenge of the invidious use of a religious motto on U.S. coins and currency taken by intrepid secular litigator Michael Newdow on behalf of many plaintiffs, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation and many of its members, was ruled against by a 3-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York today.

Primary plaintiff in Newdow v. The Congress of the United States, was Rosalyn Newdow, a member of FFRF and a devoted numismatist who collected coins for 40 years, but has felt obligated to stop purchasing coin sets which exclude her and all nonbelievers.

"It's necessary to remind not just the courts but the public that 'In God We Trust' is a Johnny-come-lately motto adopted at the height of the Cold War. It was only officially required on all currency in 1955," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

"It's not even an accurate motto. To be accurate, it would have to say, 'In God Some of Us Trust,' and wouldn't that be silly?" she said, pointing out that today nonbelievers are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification, approaching 20% — the second largest "denomination" after Roman Catholics.

FFRF first sued over the motto and its use on coins in the 1990s, and says that religion on the motto and on money remain two of the most common complaints the state/church watchdog receives.

"It creates the dangerous misperception that our republic is based on a god, when in fact it is based on an entirely godless and secular Constitution. These symbolic violations from the 1950s have damaged respect for the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government."

Gaylor praised Newdow for carrying on his pro bono work to divorce religion from government.

FFRF offers "clean," pre-"In God We Trust" currency as door prizes at its national conventions, and is currently offering a "clean" dollar bill to any FFRF member recruiting a new member.

"Godless money is a great way to end the argument when someone misguidedly says, 'God has always been on our money,' " Gaylor said.

Newdow commented that the decision was based on such weak contentions as “other circuits have ruled that ‘In God We Trust’ is OK” or “It’s just ceremonial.” He will move for a rehearing.

"I plan to keep trying in the remaining six circuits until we find some federal appellate judges who believe in the principles that underlie our Constitution."


Read more about the lawsuit history, including Newdow's fascinating legal complaint.

Read decision 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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