BY LINDA BENTLEY | SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
‘In God We Trust’ gets to stay
NEW YORK – Last week U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., for the Southern District of New York, dismissed a case filed by 11 individuals who are Atheists and Secular Humanists and two associations, New York City Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, against the United States of America, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Acting Director of the U.S. Mint and the Director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Baer concluded the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
Plaintiffs claimed U.S. currency bearing the words “In God We Trust” violates the Establishment Cause, the Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The individual plaintiffs claimed they suffer harm because the words “In God We Trust” appears on U.S. currency, while the two associations claim their members suffer the same harm as well as being committed to the separation of church and state.
The statutory provisions being challenged, to inscribe “In God We Trust” on all coins and currency, were enacted by Congress in 1955.
In 1956, Congress established “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States.
The plaintiffs’ request for relief included asking the court to find the motto unconstitutional and issue an injunction to prevent defendants from issuing currency containing the motto.
The Establishment Clause states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Baer stated the Supreme Court has repeatedly assumed the motto’s secular purpose and effect and all the circuit courts that have considered the issue (Ninth, Fifth, Tenth and D.C. Circuit) have found the inclusion of the nation’s motto on currency not to be a constitutional violation.
While all four circuit courts reached the same conclusion, Baer pointed out neither those decisions nor the history and context of the motto’s placement on currency could be ignored, despite plaintiff’s urging.
Baer said, “To do so would be to disregard the dicta from the Supreme Court, which this Circuit has instructed me to follow …”
The Free Exercise Clause provides “freedom to believe and freedom to act on one’s belief.”
According to Baer, a Free Exercise claim can only be sustained if the government placed a substantial burden on the observation of a central religious belief without a compelling governmental interest to justify the burden.
Baer wrote, “Plaintiffs argue creatively, albeit not for the first time, that the Free Exercise Clause is violated because they are forced to ‘[b]ear a religious message they believe to be untrue and completely contrary to their sincerely held religious belief’ or ‘utilize a relatively burdensome alternative method.’”
Plaintiffs also alleged the motto’s placement on currency has forced them to “bear a religious message,” “proselytize,” and “further anti-Atheist religious prejudices.”
The court determined the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the “substantial burden” required.
As he dismissed the case, Baer stated, “While plaintiffs may be inconvenienced or offended by the appearance of the motto on currency, these burdens are a far cry from coercion, penalty, or denial of benefits required under the ‘substantial burden’ standard. As such, the inclusion of the motto on currency does not present a violation of the Free Exercise Clause or the RFRA.”