Why What’s on our Money Matters

If you’ve been following the news, you may have seen that a group of atheists are suing the Federal Government to have the words “In God We Trust” taken off of our money.

You’d  think they’d have a good case.  It’s a clear violation the Establishment Clause as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prohibits the government from burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it furthers a compelling government interest.

I see no compelling government interest in putting other people’s deity on my money. But this legal challenge is by no means a sure thing. “ In God We Trust” became our national motto, replacing the lovely E plurabis unum in 1957 as one of many efforts to differentiate real Americans from Godless commies.

The Courts have already ruled that as a motto, “In God We Trust,” has a place of honor on our money. In 1970, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stated:

It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.

I have trouble following that logic, and I can’t help but wonder if it really makes people of faith happy to read that “In God We Trust” means nothing more than Yay America!  But so far, this decision has held firm.

In the interest of choosing your battles, I should be forgiven for thinking this one doesn’t really matter to me much.  Finding a $20 bill in my pocket does not make me feel oppressed.  It makes me do a happy dance.  And anyway, I hardly ever use cash.  Mostly it’s for the farmer’s market and the coffee kitty and spending money for my kids.  Maybe I should let this one go.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  It’s only money.

But it’s not only money.  In the current culture wars, government officials are slapping “In God We Trust” all over everything.  Because they can. Take that, atheist scum.  Look at us sneaking God onto the back of our police cars and into public buildings.  What are you gonna do about it?  We’re just being patriotic.

Here is why we can’t just let them have their fun: In 2009, my state enacted a law that requires every public school classroom to display a poster like the one above that says “In God We Trust” on it, lest we forget who is in charge here.  So when my child refused to take one of the bibles being handed out at school or expressed dismay at being locked into a revival meeting in the middle of the school day, the principal just smirked and pointed to the not at all religious, very patriotic signage on the wall. Obviously, she told me to my face, this is perfectly legal.  Also her husband is a lawyer.

Happily, despite familial ties to the legal profession, the district has recently had its ass handed to it in court for church/state violations to the tune of thousands of my taxpayer dollars. You can read more about the hubris and downfall of my school district in this great article  by Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta over at Patheos.  I call it money well spent. But the posters stay. For now.  If the court rules that “In God we Trust” does not in fact receive special protection as our country’s motto, those signs will have to come down.  Then I really will do a happy dance.






7 thoughts on “Why What’s on our Money Matters

  1. I suspect that the court won’t change it’s mind for the money, but that’s why you bring these things up every so often – the court has changed a lot since the 70s, but not necessarily to be one that favors this argument. I imagine that, in the unlikely event it makes it to the Supreme Court, it’ll go the same way as the Hobby Lobby decision – if that close. For most people, even thinking legislators and jurisprudence, this is very much God Country.


  2. Though, they’re trying a new tract on this lawsuit: Coming at it by saying the motto violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. I do not hold out much hope for that approach, either.


  3. I think addressing it from the standpoint of the motto makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I think if these Yankee feds came down here and saw how the motto is used for religious persecution, they might understand.


  4. I love your point that calling “In God we Trust” patriotic but not religious should seem ridiculous to religious people. If a clear reference to someone’s deity isn’t religious, then what is? I like E pluribus unum, personally. The idea of “out of many, one” fits the whole concept of the United States as a nation, and on top of sort of looking back to famous words like Ben Franklin’s “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” it also seems to point to the diversity of this country. We’re a nation of immigrants and their descendants, and that’s an identity I’d like to see more people view as something to be proud of in a patriotic way.


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