Madison, Wisconsin — A prominent atheist activist group has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to have the historic phrase “In God We Trust” removed from the nation’s currency.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) issued a press release this week about the suit, advising that the case is being handled by well-known atheist Michael Newdow, who has filed numerous lawsuits challenging the mixture of God and government.
The complaint, which has been filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, asserts that the motto violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution as it serves to proselytize unbelievers.
“[T]he American dollar travels all over the world, into every country of the world, and frequently gets behind the Iron Curtain, and if it carries this message in that way, I think it would be very good,” the suit quotes Pennsylvania Representative Herman P. Eberharter as stating during his tenure in Congress. “I think that is one of the most compelling reasons why we should put it on our currency. … The principles laid down by God and the teachings of our way of life should be kept alive in the hearts and minds of our friends enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.”
Those filing the lawsuit, which include seven children and their parents, along with other singular entities and the group New York City Atheists, state that they do not like being forced to look at the name of God on their currency every time they make a purchase. They contend that it makes them feel discriminated against and rejected by society because they have rejected the Creator.
“The motto necessarily excludes atheists and others who don’t believe in one god or a god,” FFRF asserts. “Because it appears on national currency and states ‘in God we trust,’ the phrase necessarily makes full citizenship contingent on the belief provided.”
“Our government is prohibited from endorsing one religion over another but also prohibited from endorsing religion over nonreligion,” stated FFRF co-president Dan Barker. “The placement of a monotheistic ideal on our nation’s currency violates this stricture and is therefore unconstitutional.”
The motto “In God We Trust” has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and began being printed on paper currency in 1957. The phrase is to believed to have originated with the Star Spangled Banner, written during the War of 1812, which declares, “And this be our motto: In God We Trust!”
Following a Civil War-era proposal from a number of pastors to the U.S. Treasury Department that God be acknowledged on American currency, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase obliged and ordered that a design be created. Its inscription was first upheld by Congress in 1864, and then again in 1873 when Congress passed the Coinage Act, which specifically declared that the secretary “may cause the motto ‘In God We Trust’ to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto.”
In 1956, Congress passed a resolution making “In God We Trust” the national motto, which was again upheld by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011 by a 396-9 vote.