Does the phrase “In God We Trust” that is displayed on American money force God onto atheists in absence of a compelling government interest? California attorney Michael Newdow thinks that it does and filed a lawsuit on Jan. 11 in Akron’s United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to challenge the use of the motto on U.S. money.
The defendants include the United States of America, U.S. Congress, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew, U.S. Mint Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson and Leonard R. Olijar, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Newdow made headlines a decade ago when he unsuccessfully challenged the language “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in a case that made it to the Supreme Court. He stated his position generally in a 2015 interview: “There is obviously no compelling government interest in having ‘In God We Trust’ on our money. We did fine for the 75 years before the phrase was ever used at all, and continued to do fine for the subsequent 102 years before such inscriptions were made mandatory on every coin and currency bill. Similarly, the vast majority of nations manage to function without religious verbiage on their money.”
This past summer he called for plaintiffs to help participate in the recently filed case, stating, “We actually are quite far along in finding plaintiffs. What we need mostly are families with minor children since the Supreme Court has indicated that it is more likely to uphold constitutional (and, presumably, statutory) principles when children are involved.”
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The 41 plaintiffs from Ohio and Michigan include unnamed children, evidencing various scenarios that would place them in contact with the motto “In God We Trust” in their daily life (stylized as “In G-d We Trust” in the filing).
For example, “Plaintiff New Roe Child #1 is a minor child who is a resident of Ohio who has ongoing contact with U.S. money at school, at home and during commerce. The phrase ‘In G-d We Trust (which he unwillingly confronts on the money) is the direct opposite of his humanist belief system. Because that phrase is accepted and distributed by our federal government, Plaintiff Roe Child #1 is made to feel that his beliefs are abnormal and not accepted by the government or by society. He also feels uncomfortable when he repeatedly has to personally handle and use money that contains a religious statement that goes against his religious beliefs.”
Additionally, the filing includes some of the children’s parents as plaintiffs, including “Plaintiff New Poe Parent … a resident of Michigan who frequently handles United States currency. She is also an Atheist who denies G-d’s existence. Thus, when handling the nation’s money, she is unwillingly forced to confront the ‘In G-d We Trust’ phrase inscribed by Defendants on all of the nation’s coins and currency bills.”
One of the named plaintiffs, Michigan resident Stuart Chisholm, “runs a small business in suburban Detroit. He, therefore, frequently handles United States coins and currency not only when making his own purchases, but when his customers pay him for his services. In doing so, Mr. Chisholm (who is an Atheist) is not only unwillingly forced to confront the ‘In G-d We Trust’ message that is contrary to his personal religious views, but is also unwillingly forced to transmit that religiously offensive message to others. In other words, each and every time he passes a coin or currency bill to others, he is unwillingly complicit in advocating for a religious concept that he opposes.”
Other named plaintiffs include an individual who wants to run for public office, but cannot accept cash contributions without violating his religious beliefs, and another “who is forced to spread this Monotheistic message, also against her will, in a loathsome repudiation of her self-esteem.”