NEW YORK — A federal appeals court has ruled against a prominent atheist and his quest to remove the motto ‘In God We Trust’ from American currency.
As previously reported, atheist Michael Newdow, who has filed numerous suits challenging the mixture of God and government, submitted a complaint in the Southern District of New York in March 2013, asserting 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,” Newdow 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 named in the lawsuit, which included seven children and their parents, along with other singular entities and the group New York City Atheists, remarked that they do not like being forced to look at the name of God on their currency every time they make a purchase. They contended that it makes them feel discriminated against and rejected by society because they have rejected the Creator.
But last September, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer, Jr., nominated by Bill Clinton, rejected the arguments of the plaintiffs and Newdow, opining that “the inclusion of the motto on U.S. currency . . . does not violate the Establishment Clause [of the Constitution].”
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly assumed the motto’s secular purpose and effect, and all circuit courts that have considered this issue – namely the Ninth, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuit – have found no constitutional violation in the motto’s inclusion on currency,” Baer wrote. “[The plaintiffs] may be inconvenienced or offended by the appearance of the motto on currency, these burdens are a far cry from the coercion, penalty, or denial of benefits required under the ‘substantial burden’ standard [in case law].”
Newdow consequently appealed his case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, but on Wednesday, the court likewise ruled against the prominent atheist.
“As the Supreme Court has repeatedly indicated in dicta, the statutes at issue in this case have a secular purpose and neither advance nor inhibit religion. The Court has recognized in a number of its cases that the motto, and its inclusion in the design of U.S. currency, is a ‘reference to our religious heritage,’” it wrote. “We therefore hold, in line with the Supreme Court’s dicta, that [the motto appearing on currency does] not violate the Establishment Clause.”
“We respectfully disagree that appellants have identified a substantial burden upon their religious practices or beliefs,” the panel also concluded in regard to the atheists’ proselytization claim.
Following the ruling, atheists expressed their disappointment in the decision.
“Tradition is a terrible excuse for any behavior,” American Atheists spokesman David Muscato told RNS. “If we allowed ‘tradition’ to guide our views, what else would we uphold—slavery, denying the vote to women?”
But Rory Gray of the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom praised the ruling, stating that the Second Circuit reached the proper decision, which he noted has been “repeatedly affirmed” in the courts.
“Americans need not be forced to abandon their religious heritage simply to appease someone’s animosity toward anything that references God,” he said. “The Second Circuit rightly reached the same conclusion because this suit was based on a deeply flawed understanding of the First Amendment.”