Why “In God We Trust” Should Be Removed by Dan Barker (June/July 1994)

This article was sent to newspapers around the country, including every daily paper in Wisconsin and Colorado. Barker is a Foundation staff member and a plaintiff in the case.

It’s very simple: I don’t believe in “God,” but my money says I do.

I am an American, but I am not a part of the “We” in “In God We Trust.” Millions of good, moral, patriotic citizens do not believe in a god. We pay taxes, vote, sit on juries and serve in the military, but every time we spend a dollar bill we are told that Congress considers us outsiders.

To be accurate, the motto should say, “In God Some Of Us Trust,” and wouldn’t that be silly?

Unbelievers represent 7%-9% of the population. By comparison, Jews are a respected minority at 2%-3%. Most people would consider “In Jesus We Trust” to be exclusionary and inappropriate. So, why is it okay to exclude atheists and agnostics?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national organization of atheists and agnostics. The most common complaint we hear from our members is regarding “In God We Trust.” The phrase repeatedly has been used to justify other First Amendment state/church violations. When we complain to a city about prayers before council meetings, they almost invariably respond, “But it says ‘In God We Trust’ on our money.” That ubiquitous motto has been used to bolster arguments for school prayer, Nativity scenes in public places, tax dollars for parochial schools . . . you name it.

Ironically, the day before we filed our lawsuit challenging “In God We Trust,” the City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, voted to replace the Christian Cross on its city seal (which had rightly come under constitutional attack) with “In God We Trust.” The City of Zion, Illinois, has done the same thing, disgruntled after losing its right to advertise Christianity. The Illinois town of Hillsboro justified the unconstitutional “The World Needs God” banner on its courthouse by citing “In God We Trust.” If God is on our money, they argue, then it must be okay on the courthouse.

But “In God We Trust” has never been legally tested in trial. Its constitutionality has never had its day in court, nor has the Supreme Court issued a decision on its merits. It is premature to use it as a legal excuse to mix religion and government. This is one of the reasons why we have gone to court over the issue.

In 1955 Congress put “In God We Trust” on all currency. Before then it had appeared only sporadically, since the Civil War, on some coins. In 1956 Congress adopted the phrase as our national motto, replacing the historic and more accurate “E Pluribus Unum” (“From Many, One”) chosen by Jefferson, Franklin and Adams.

The 1950s was a time of intense Cold War hysteria. “Under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. During the McCarthy era, no congressperson wanted to be seen voting against “God.” When Rep. Bennett introduced the bill to put “In God We Trust” on our money, he gave the threat of “materialistic communism” as a justification.

“In God We Trust” on money is a Cold War anachronism. If there ever were any truly “unAmerican” activities, then defacing our secular currency with religious graffiti was one of them.

The American way is to let people decide for themselves what to believe. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government is restricted to secular actions alone, that it must neither advance nor hinder religion. “In God We Trust” is a religious phrase. It does not belong on the legal tender of our secular nation, the first nation to separate church and state with a godless constitution.

Let’s reclaim our traditional, inclusive, American motto: “E Pluribus Unum.” The Berlin Wall has come down. It’s time to rebuild Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation