Monday, March 14, 2011


"The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an atheist activist’s appeal challenging the national motto “In God We Trust.”

Michael Newdow has charged that government references to God are an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state and infringe on his religious beliefs. He has filed numerous lawsuits on the subject. His latest suit concerned the national motto’s place on U.S. coins and currency, contending it makes him an unwilling bearer of a religious message.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals said in an earlier ruling that the phrase is ceremonial and patriotic and “has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion,” the Associated Press reports."

Beyond the obvious relief that I feel in this decision not to take up this case I'm left with a sense of confusion. If Newdow thinks the phrase "In God We Trust" infringes on his religious beliefs and that it violates the First Amendment how does his use of government power to inflict his religious beliefs on the rest of us differ in intent or effect?

This is the problem, well at least one of the problems, with atheists. While they rail against religion of all forms they never quite seem to realize that atheism is as much a religion as Catholicism, Buddhism or Islam. It takes just as much faith, if not more, to believe in nothing as it does to believe in God! One can make a logical argument for the existence of God based on reason alone. Obviously, complete belief is a matter of faith but at least reason can get you close. Arguing for the existence of nothing is just a bit trickier. Even if one were to accept the material arguments for the material world put forth by science those arguments still don't supply an answer for the existence or non-existence of a prime mover.

To say that God doesn't exist is an act of faith and as such atheists, following their own logic, should not be allowed to use government to further their religious agenda by using it to replace the established religious symbolism that is part of America's heritage.


  1. The "God" that is referenced on the currency is the god that the criminals who run this country worship. It is the supreme being, the grand architect of the freemasons, not the god of christianity.

  2. Actually, the phrase, or a variation of it, was first heard in the final stanza of the "Star Spangled Banner", written in 1814. It first appeared on our coins in 1864 after an appeal written to Secretary Chase by Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania. The text of this appeal is as follows:

    "Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition. It was found that the Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States.”"

    By 1909 it was included on most of our coinage and on July 11, 1955 President Eisenhower signed a law making it mandatory that all coin and currency carry the motto.

    I understand the affect that Freemasonry has had on this country and that masonic influences run deep. However, I cannot, at least without definitive proof, agree with your statement above.

    Not that it would surprise me if it were true.

  3. The government's inscription of the phrase "In God we trust" on coins and currency, as well as its addition of the words "under God" to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 and adoption of the phrase "In God we trust" as a national motto in 1956, were mistakes, which should be corrected. Under our Constitution, the government has no business proclaiming that "we trust" "[i]n God." Some of us do, and some of us don't; each of us enjoys the freedom to make that choice; the government does not and should not purport to speak for us in this regard. Nor does the government have any business calling on its citizens to voice affirmation of a god in any circumstances, let alone in the very pledge the government prescribes for affirming allegiance to the country. The unnecessary insertion of an affirmation of a god in the pledge puts atheists and other nonbelievers in a Catch 22: Either recite the pledge with rank hypocrisy or accept exclusion from one of the basic rituals of citizenship enjoyed by all other citizens. The government has no business forcing citizens to this choice on religious grounds, and it certainly has no business assembling citizens' children in public schools and prescribing their recitation of the pledge--affirmation of a god and all--as a daily routine.

    But that's just me talking. The courts, on the other hand, have sometimes found ways to excuse such things, for instance with the explanation that they are more about acknowledging tradition than promoting religion per se. Draining the government's nominally religious statements or actions of religious meaning (or at least purporting to do so) and discounting them as non-religious ritual--sometimes dubbed "ceremonial deism"--is one way to find them not to conflict with the First Amendment. Ordinary folks, though, commonly see things differently; when they read "[i]n God we trust," they think the Government is actually declaring that "we" as a people actually "trust" the actual "God" they believe in. If they understood it as merely a ritualistic phrase devoid of religious meaning, they would hardly get as exercised as they do about proposals to drop it. As you can imagine, those more interested in championing their religion than the constitutional principle of separation of church and state sometimes seek to exploit and expand such "exceptions" even if it requires they fake interest only in tradition.

    It also should not be supposed that keeping government and religion separate somehow means the government endorses atheism. There is a difference between the government (1) remaining neutral in matters of religion and leaving individuals free to choose, exercise, and express their religious views without government intrusion and (2) taking sides in matters of religion and promoting one view (whether theism [in one, any, or all its various forms], atheism, or whatever) to the detriment of others.

    By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. It is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religion, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their republican government. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity's influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that--and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow "lock in" (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.

  4. Hey Doug,

    I agree that the Founders intended to allow religious freedom but I disagree that they intended the government itself to be neutral on religious matters. The establishment cause does not protect government from religion, it protects religion from government.

    If the Founders intended a completely secular and non-religious society how do you explain these lines from the Declaration of Independence:

    "...the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them..."

    "...that they are endowed by their Creator..."

    "...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions..."

    "...with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence..."

    Some of the Founders were Christian, some not and some were probably atheists or agnostics. That's why references to God, Divine Providence or a Creator are not Christian, Buddhist or anything else. They're a generic acknowledgement of a prime mover, one that most anyone, besides atheists, could agree with.

    The Founders, by using the language they did in the Declaration of Independence made no more an endorsement of Christianity than they did Buddhism. And the invocation of God's name in the pledge or on our currency is the same thing.

    I suppose that if reciting the pledge causes feelings of hypocrisy and exclusion then you have to question even your basic ability to support the founding principles as spelled out in the Declaration. Belief in a God is so tightly bound up in the documents and laws that built this country that it's impossible to avoid it. The Congress opens with prayer, we traditionally swear on the Bible before giving testimony, the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols can be found in the Supreme Court building and on and on.

    We are a religious people. That's the plain and simple truth. Because of this, and because atheists are but a truly small minority, I suppose that you'll have to accept that. Our history is a history of appeals to God by political leaders in times of war and peace. This does not establish any particular religion, most especially Christianity, though I'd bet most of the people that have led our country were at least nominally Christian. It does however nod the head in recognition of the nearly universal understanding that there is a God in heaven of some sort and that we owe our existence and freedoms to Him.

  5. The principle of separation of church and state is derived from the Constitution (1) establishing a secular government on the power of the people (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) and, indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in the First Amendment where the point is to confirm that each person enjoys religious liberty and that the government is not to take steps to establish religion and another provision precluding any religious test for public office. James Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820).

    While some draw meaning from the reference to "Nature's God" and "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is baseless. Apart from the fact that these references could mean any number of things (some at odds with the Christian idea of God), there simply is no "legal" connection or effect between the two documents. Important as the Declaration is in our history, it did not operate to bring about independence, nor did it found a government. The colonists issued the Declaration not to effect their independence, but rather to explain and justify the move to independence that was already well underway. Nothing in the Constitution depends on anything said in the Declaration. Nor does anything said in the Declaration purport to limit or define the government later formed by the free people of the former colonies; nor could it even if it purported to do so. Once independent, the people of the former colonies could choose whatever form of government they deemed appropriate. They were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration. Sure, they could take it as inspiration and guidance if, and to the extent, they chose--or they could not. They could have formed a theocracy if they wished--or, as they ultimately chose, a secular government founded on the power of the people (not a deity).

    The primary purpose of the First Amendment religion clauses is neither to protect religion nor government from one another, but rather to protect individuals' religious freedom. The free-exercise clause does this directly by constraining the government from prohibiting individuals from freely exercising their religions. The establishment clause does this indirectly by constraining government from promoting or otherwise taking steps to establish any religion, thus assuring that individuals are free to exercise their religions without fearing the government will favor the religions of others and thus disfavor theirs.

    Some who nonetheless would like to use government to promote their religion have argued that the First Amendment works only in one direction--to protect religion from government, but not the other way around. This, they suppose, would leave them free to insinuate their religion into government and thereby effectively establish it as the nation's religion. To the extent that the First Amendment prevents that, it can be said to at least have the effect of protecting government from religion. Indeed, the notion of a one directional wall is self-contradictory: If any church is free to so influence and control government and thereby achieve a favored or established status, all individuals are at risk of their religions falling into disfavor with government and facing discriminatory treatment. One of the primary aims of the First Amendment is to prevent just that.