A federal district court found printing “In God We Trust” on legal tender does not violate the Constitution.
The issue appears periodically in the federal courts — the first case addressing this subject, Aronow v. U.S., was adjudicated in the 1970s. Courts have consistently ruled that the national motto does not constitute an establishment of religion.
“The National Motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ appears on government buildings across the country, including the House and Senate Chambers,” said Justin Butterfield, senior counsel at the First Liberty Institute, in a statement. “Banning the National Motto from our currency would have been egregious, and the court ruled correctly in dismissing the lawsuit.”
First Liberty, a public interest law firm, filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the American Legion.
In this case, a group of humanists and atheists claimed that the religious message on American currency forced them to rely on a burdensome alternative method for conducting transactions. They contended that using legal tender forces them to bear a religious message they believe untrue. They also argue the motto obligates them to spread a religious message, contravening their right to free speech, and violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
District Court Judge Benita Pearson, one of President Barack Obama’s appointees, made fairly short work of these arguments in her ruling.
Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that the use of the motto on currency substantially burdens their religious exercise. Credit cards and checks allow Plaintiffs to conduct the bulk of their purchases with currency not inscribed with the motto. And for cash-only transactions, such as a garage sale or a coin-operated laundromat, the use of the motto on currency does not substantially burden Plaintiffs’ free exercise. Plaintiffs argue that cash transactions force them to bear a message that they violates their religious beliefs. But as the Supreme Court stated in Wooley v. Maynard, “[t]he bearer of currency is thus not required to publicly advertise the national motto.” Furthermore, Plaintiffs’ other concerns, that they may be subject to peer pressure or ridicule, or that their children may question their beliefs, are unlike the choice between a “basic benefit and a core belief” described in the Supreme Court’s case law.
The secularist coalition can appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.