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Group of Atheists, Humanists Sues to Remove National Motto “In God We Trust” from U.S. Currency—First Liberty Fights Back

Is including the National Motto, “In God We Trust,” on U.S. currency a violation of the First Amendment?

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May 19, 2016

Attacks are intensifying against America’s National Motto, “In God We Trust.”

First Liberty is already defending law enforcement departments threatened with lawsuits for displaying “In God We Trust” on their patrol vehicles—something First Liberty attorneys say is well within their constitutional rights.

Now, a group of atheists, humanists and others are suing the federal government, demanding the removal of “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency. Once again, First Liberty is stepping in to defend freedom.

“It is completely appropriate and lawful to include the Motto on our currency,” said Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty President and CEO. “Banning the National Motto would be both unlawful and wrong.”

FIRST LIBERTY REPRESENTS THE AMERICAN LEGION TO BLOCK ATTACKS ON NATIONAL MOTTO

The Department of Justice responded to the attack by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. First Liberty, on behalf of The American Legion, the largest veterans organization in the United States, filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in support of the motion in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

In the brief, First Liberty attorneys emphasize the historical relevance of “In God We Trust.”

“The American Legion believes that our National Motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ itself originating in Francis Scott Key’s poem that would become ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and honoring the courage and valor of our service members who defended Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, is a fitting and solemnizing motto for this nation.”

GROUP CLAIMS “IN GOD WE TRUST” VIOLATES THEIR FREE SPEECH

Ironically, the very same people demanding that the government and others stop displaying the National Motto claim that inclusion of the National Motto on U.S. currency violates their free speech rights.

The Plaintiffs claim that the printing of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on United States currency is a form of compelled religious speech. They argue that their rights have been violated “because the placement of the National Motto on the currency impermissibly advances Christianity.”

However, as First Liberty argues, such claims are “mischaracterizations of precedent.” First Liberty also notes that the federal courts of appeals have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of “In God We Trust.”

First Liberty points out that there is no law against simply covering up the motto, allowing those who find the message disagreeable to avoid the burden of bearing it.

PAST COURT RULINGS SUPPORT “IN GOD WE TRUST” ON CURRENCY

As First Liberty and The American Legion note in their brief, the Plaintiffs use a case that does not actually support their compelled speech argument – Wooley v. Maynard.

In Wooley v. Maynard, New Hampshire law prohibited the covering of the phrase “Live Free or Die” on its license plates despite objections that the phrase violated some individuals’ moral beliefs. In that case, the Supreme Court did not tell New Hampshire to stop printing the phrase on state license plates. Instead, it simply ordered New Hampshire to stop punishing individuals who covered the phrase because of their moral objections.

Because Wooley’s outcome did not demand New Hampshire to stop printing the phrase “Live Free or Die” on their license plates, this case does not support the Plaintiff’s argument for removing “In God We Trust” from national currency.

In fact, the Wooley Court addressed whether its decision would impact the use of the National Motto on currency in the future, stating, “currency is generally carried in a purse or pocket and need not be displayed to the public. The bearer of currency is thus not required to publically advertise the national motto.” (Wooley, 430 US at 717 n. 15.)

IN DEFENSE OF HERITAGE

“Our National Motto is deeply embedded in the history of our nation and serves both a historical and secular purpose,” Shackelford said. “The federal government’s decision to display it on our currency promotes patriotism and recognition of our national heritage. This attack on our national motto is outrageous.”

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