May 29, 2014

In God we (secularly) trust

"In God We Trust" on US money is secular, not religious, a federal court has ruled. The ruling is in line with other circuit courts' rulings on the question of the monetary motto in 1978, '79, '96 and 2010. The phrase does not violate the First Amendment of the constitution, officially establishing a religion.

In fact, the panel of three judges ruled on Wednesday, the laws that established the motto "do not have a religious purpose or advance religion, nor do they place a substantial burden on appellants’ religious practices."

The 1996 ruling on "In God We Trust" said the motto wasn't even basically religious, but really "a form of ceremonial deism."

The atheists who filed the suit argued that the motto was not only religious, but so powerful that just carrying cash and coins amounted to proselytizing. They also argued that the money's motto can be attributed to the person who has the money, so the government was in effect forcing them to "bear on their person" "a statement that attributes to them personally a perceived falsehood that is the antithesis of the central tenant of their religious system."

The court reject the argument, and disagreed that the motto amounted to a substantial burden on non-theists.

The ruling marks a legal setback who want to strengthen the strengthen the separation of church and state. As Laren Markoe reported for Religion News Service, this is only the most recent ruling that went against secularists:
Atheists have seen a spate of unfavorable rulings lately. Last week a federal court in Kentucky rejected atheists’ suit against the IRS, for the many breaks and privileges it offers churches and religious organizations. And in the 5-4 Greece v. Galloway ruling earlier this month, the Supreme Court affirmed that government bodies may convene meeting with highly sectarian prayers.
Even some who are sympathetic to the legal argument against the motto were skeptical about the lawsuit, though. Atheist Hemant Mehta wrote that "I didn’t think anyone would really take the complaint seriously, legal arguments notwithstanding." It appeared frivolous, even to some who were generally sympathetic.

Mehta: "I'm still on the side of the plaintiffs -- they're right that the phrase shouldn't be on the currency. It's absolutely a statement that favors religion over non-religion and the government shouldn't be taking that position, but at least for now, there appears to be no legal recourse to change that."

The phrase "In God We Trust" first appeared on American money in 1864, in the context of the Civil War. The phrase was made an official national motto in 1956, in the context of the Cold War. The U.S. Congress reaffirmed the motto in 2011, with a vote of 396 to 9. Virginia Republican J. Randy Forbes, who sponsored the 2011 bill, said the motto has both spiritual and psychological value for the American public.