September 13, 2013

Please take my Establishment Clause test.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to have the motto "In God We Trust" taken off U.S. money. The federal judge, applying a familiar old doctrine, dismissed the suit, saying "the Supreme Court has repeatedly assumed the motto's secular purpose and effect."

Here's my test: You have 30 seconds. Don't read the article and don't look anything up. Write one sentence articulating a secular purpose for having "In God We Trust" on the money. Do the best you can — that is, be on against the Freedom From Religion side for the purposes of this exercise.

ADDED: I will read all the comments later today and pick some winners, but after reading a few, I feel like saying that the requirement that a law have a secular purpose can be diminished to nothing if you accept the proposition that there is a secular purpose for religion. Government can always say it is using religion to mollify/control/improve people for worldly ends. The argument would be that as long as religion is the means and not the end, it's a secular purpose. Note that complete atheists could embrace this kind of religion (and I assume they have throughout history all over the world).

CORRECTION:  The original post said "on" where it should have said "against." That was confusing, and I'm very sorry. It makes no sense — perhaps you noticed — to articulate the FFR side, which is there is NO secular purpose. The idea is to come up with a secular purpose, and I wanted you to do your best at that, even if you'd prefer to see FFR win this.

74 comments:

jr565 said...

Saying in God We trust doesn't establish a religion any more than saying we are endowed by out creator with certain inaliable rights does.

American Liberal Elite said...

As used on U.S. currency, the word "we" doesn't mean all Americans, it means "a majority of Americans," and as such it it merely a statement of objective fact.

John Lynch said...

Attempting to remove "In God we Trust" from our coins will launch an enormous, disruptive, and ultimately pointless national argument that will only serve to divide the nation over something that no one (save a few fringe religious bigots) cares about.

Andy Freeman said...

"It isn't time to piss off the proles on this (yet)."

One of the Supreme's primary goals is to retain enough legitimacy and one of the left wing's goals is to keep "those people" from being interested enough to fight back against orchestrated "court drift".

Sayyid said...

A national motto brings a sense of national unity and togetherness to a country, and removal of that motto would deprive us of that.

Roost on the Moon said...

What if you had to argue...

Like the turning of the palm outward in greeting, its literal meeting ("I am unarmed") is archaic, but it invokes the spirit of shared belief (i.e. this token is exchangeable for goods and services) that makes currency possible.

Jason said...

It pisses off all the right people.

Do I win a prize?

Quayle said...

A society whose liberty is centered in each individual's right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life is a more free and peaceful society in the short run.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Since there is no consensus on what the word "God" means, its use in the sentence "In God we trust" cannot reasonably be said to establish a religion.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Do the best you can — that is, be on the Freedom From Religion side for the purposes of this exercise.

Do you not mean, argue against the Freedom From Religion side as best you can?

dbp said...

Saying In God We Trust gives the implication that all others pay cash?

The secular purpose is to compare the trust in US currency with the trust (most) people have in God.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

It is an affirmation of a communal belief of most (though not all) Americans that things will fall right for us in the end. "God" might as well be "Providence," except that it';s harder to fit that on a coin.

Sorry, that's two sentences.

Steven said...

Hmm.

The secular purpose is to reassure the religious majority of the world's populace that the government of the United States is not hostile to them.

(This doesn't strike me as a good "secular purpose" justification, but as an atheist, I'm not in the least bothered by such incidental invocations of what O'Connor called "ceremonial deism". They neither pick my pocket nor break my leg, and certainly do not remotely create an established religion.)

gspencer said...

Think of the alternative, In Government We Trust. Please.

Suppose another alternative would be to state nothing, but that seems so wistful. We have to stand for something.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Since we went off the gold standard, we have a faith-based currency. Without the motto, the dollar would become worthless and our economy would collapse. And "In The Federal Reserve We Trust" takes up too much space.

(I call this the Ron Paul argument.)

jimbino said...

Nobody can trust the gummint. Nor can you trust this paper money.

Lem said...

I took more than 30 seconds.

That's my answer.

Jane said...

This is the secular purpose: our money is fiat money; "in God we trust" acknowledges this. The "trust" is not just in God but in the fact that the money will hold its value.

Cedarford said...

1. Tradition. Much of the authority of government stems from beliefs that God rests behind much of the social contract and enumerated rights. Ditch it on currency, and it:
a. Will soon be pushed by the same assholes to be banned as a basis in marriage, oaths administered, natural law, from other ceremonial functions.
b. It robs the people of the historical richness that tradition gives The People if all manifestations of religion are eradicated in the secular sphere.
c. It could also quickly go into bans on prison and military chaplains on grounds of subsidizing religion. And tax exemption for religion, outside strict charity, could also be threatened.

2. What will be it's replacement in constitution and law and officials interaction with the masses?
a. The post-1917 Jews and Atheists of the Soviet Union worked hard to eliminate Christian Orthodox manifestations in all spheres of public life. Trying to replace it with science, jewish cosmopolitanism, communism and "social justice" as the pillars authority the Soviet social contract rested on. It was inadequate. Nationalism and religion returned in WWII, were suppressed again after WWII until the fall of the Soviet Empire. Then nationalism and religion again surfaced. The fact of Vlad Putin quoting God more than US Democrats do in his NY Times op-ed, is no strange accident.
b. American's want certain rights to be immutable because they are based on natural law under God. You dump that basis....all rights would then rest solely on "the will of Congress" and be quite malleable.

Mark O said...

Precedent, baby. Precedent.

Carol said...

Ultimate authority is not to be any person. I think it invokes natural law.

Indigo Red said...

The phrase "In God We Trust" on the national currency does not pose a substantial burden to Atheists as a group that does not believe in any god and thus cannot be be discriminatory; does not violate existing law which guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion as the plaintiffs claim, and finally, "In God We Trust" works better than "Trust Us, We Know What We're Doing."

St. George said...

It's part of our national brand. Like "Just Do It."

E pluribus to the unum.

Smile on our endeavors, Big Guy.

Virgil Hilts said...

"In God we Trust" needs to be understood by its negative implication – that which we do not trust. We do not trust Kings or Emperors who claim a divine right to rule or to speak for God, thus uniting the church with the state. In God we Trust is a celebration, not an abridgment, of the separation of church and state.

Gahrie said...

To get gullible people to believe there is any value in a uselsss piece of paper backed up by nothing more than false promises.

jimbino said...

I have a paper drill that mounts in my drill-press and is capable of drilling a hole right through a stack of gods.

The cool thing is that, besides saying "In [hole] we trust," the process cannot be reversed by the fundamentalist Christianists.

My only problem is what to do with all the loose gods. In case you're wondering, it is not a crime to deface currency unless you intend to render it unfit for circulation, which is, of course, the opposite of my intent.

cf. USC Section 333. Mutilation of national bank obligations
Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or
unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank
bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national
banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal
Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note,
or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined
under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

West Texas Intermediate Crude said...

Confusing. The FFRF wants the motto off, but we are to be on their side to articulate a secular purpose for having the motto stay on the money???

Here goes anyway:
"Belief in God was near-universal in the culture that produced the Constitution; the secularism of that time assumed the existence of our Creator."

n.n said...

Why is God, who is believed to judge men and women in their post-mortem, deemed so offensive to these people? Surely, they must realize that objective principles of morality can be derived and justified without divine inspiration, and that merely marginalizing God will not permit them to run amuck.

Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is confusing religion and faith. They are not equivalent. Everyone operates on the basis of faith. Unfortunately, not everyone will acknowledge what they know, don't know, and are incapable of knowing.

In any case, the mature man or woman will judge a philosophy (or religion) by the principles it engenders. It is juvenile and quite silly to accept or reject a philosophy for egoistic reasons.

That said, I wonder how FFRF classifies science which exceeds a limited frame and whose merits are established by conclusively limited, circumstantial evidence. Where do they draw the line between science and philosophy (or religion)?

Lucien said...

The motto denies fealty or subservience to any earthly powers and bolsters feelings of exceptionalism and special providence.

El Pollo Raylan said...

A secular purpose is that the phrase unites disparate peoples.

"In God We Trust" is on the money by popular demand. There's no other mandate for its being there. Congress could put "In God We Don't Trust" on money if enough of them wanted to do so, or they could remove it.

I can't think of any constitutional reason to forbid any of those choices.

KnightErrant said...

It's a meaningless sop to overly sensitive primitive idolaters that can be easily ignored by rational adults.

Bob said...

> "that is, be on the Freedom From Religion side for the purposes of this exercise."

Don't you mean the opposite? If our sentence upholds a secular purpose, then we're on the judge's side.

Yu-Ain Gonnano said...

The motto is a trite general statement of solidarity with no more our less purpose or force of law, and likely about as offensive, as if congress were to adopt "Go Redskins" as its motto.

cyrus83 said...

A secular purpose is to articulate that the nation's trust is placed in some authority higher than that of mere men (and really, given the current state of affairs, aren't we all glad the money doesn't say "In Congress/The Fed/The President/The Supreme Court/Washington We Trust"?)

On a related note, I'd like to help the FFRF folks by offering to take all the offending currency with "In God We Trust" that they have off their hands.

Craig said...

I have an indelible golf ball marker that's designed for printing my name on a golf ball, but I use it to print Be The Ball because that's what I want to be thinking when I start my backswing.

AlanKH said...

Our founding legal document, the Declaration of Independence, formally recognizes God as Creator and supreme legal authority over humanity. The Declaration offers no description of God aside from those two offices. "In God we trust" simply acknowledges the latter, that law and rights originate from some source that transcending humanity, a source that many label as "God."

FleetUSA said...

The phrase symbolizes our trust or our need in something besides ourselves. Maybe even God = Government.

Darrell said...

Because it validates the other part of the sentiment--all others pay cash.And cash--legal tender-- is what you are creating.

Edward Lunny said...

The inclusion of the phrase on our currency explicitly indicates the belief in an omniscient being to whom we are subservient too and have faith acts in our best interests.
That, I think, fulfills your test.
Personally, being a non-believer, I understand the traditions of our country, it's documents, and the beliefs and philosophies of our founders. As such, I feel no compulsion or prejudice by the inclusion of the phrase on our currency.

Clyde said...

I think we should replace it with "Don't Mess With Us" as the new American motto. Actually, I'd prefer the F-bomb to "Mess", but the latter term actually gets the message across without offending anyone. I wouldn't be averse to replacing the eagle with a clenched fist as well, just to reinforce the point.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

There is no fashion by which the generic "God" (Yahweh, Allah, Wakan Tanka, Cthulhu or whatever) can be constructed so as to establish any one of them as the official national faith.

Matthew Sablan said...

The public interest is simple. Removing it would ruin Miracle on 34th Street.

Maddad said...

The conclusion "All others pay cash" is understood.

El Pollo Raylan said...

The motto has been on US money since 1864 and appeared on and off numerous coins since that time. Coins used to play a greater role, especially for poorer people.

Obama openly mocked Congress' vote to reauthorize "In God We Trust" as the nation's motto: link. He suggested instead e pluribus unum which is ironic because his style of governance suggests the converse: "From one, many:" i.e., divisiveness.

Basil said...

It doesn't establish a national religion and its within an enumerated power, therefore Congress, as the representative of the people, can exercise its will on this matter.

Tom said...

Who's we, White Man?! -- Tonto

SGT Ted said...

Our Liberties descend from God, or Nature. They are Natural Rights, inherent upon being born and are not grants from Government. Thus We Trust God, as we certainly cannot trust Government to secure them when it comes down to it.

The Freedom From Religion folk are trying to deny this to others by using the Government to restrict speech with which they disagree. Double fail. I don't have to take their side to argue for the secular recognition of the meaning of "In God We Trust". The Founders did it quite handily.

IntellectuallyCurious said...

So that it excludes any and all terrestrial power such as monarchy

mike said...

There can be no "secular purpose" for having In God We Trust on our money. I agree with others here that think the assignment is confusing.

dustbunny said...

If you are secular, God is an idea. Are you going to stop saying "oh my God! or goddamn it " just because you don't believe?

Inga said...
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Inga said...
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elkh1 said...

In Big Gov. We Trust?

In God We Trust is an integral part of the design on our money, it is a very artistic, intelligent design.

Jessica said...

The phrase, "In God We Trust" is descriptive, not normative. It describes the feelings of the majority of Americans, who do believe in a god of some type, but does not require or otherwise support that belief.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Seeing the other answers now, I must say I like the fiat currency argument.

Matthew Sablan said...

How much would it cost to mint/print new money? Maybe we should issue everyone government debit cards linked to approved bank accounts and abolish physical money. Then we could say, in Internet we trust, but verify.

Almost Ali said...

(I submitted the following early yesterday evening, but apparently it was missed. And since there are prizes involved, I'm trying again...)

In practical terms, "In God We Trust" simply means having faith that we Americans will [always] do the right thing.

Inga said...

OK, I'm going to give this a serious try.

There are people that need to believe in a God in order to keep themselves from acting on their baser natures. It's a small concession to keep peace and harmony in our society.

Geneo said...

Live and let Live----without punishment or harassment from others.

Geneo said...

Live and let Live----without punishment or harassment from others.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Since In God We Trust was first placed on U.S. coins during the Civil War, taking it off would be racist.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

In God We Trust expresses a libertarian republican sentiment that is not religious. It conveys that we don't trust monarchs, government, church, or even ourselves.

Ryan Steffes said...

While the motto may have once had religious signifcance, it has, over time, acquired a secular meaning. It conveys national pride and a sense of solemnity regarding the founding and history of the nation.

R. Chatt said...

In the eternal battle between good and evil we choose the good and are willing bet on it and even declare it on our money.

Steve G said...

The phrase "In God We Trust" articulates our national self image (or conceit) that as Americans we are simultaneously humble in the face of a greater spiritual power and unbowed in the face of a temporal power.

dwm said...

i would just give the prize to jason for "It pisses off all the right people."

Rusty said...

They misspelled "dog"

It was assumed everyone believes in some sort of higher power.

There is no god! (or dog) Prove it!


Because if "In God we Trust" remains part of our lexicon the tears of little children will turn to acid and melt their eyeballs.


gbarto said...

"In politicians and economists we trust" would remind us that it's not actually backed by anything.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Forget what I said about fiat currency; all national currencies are fiat now. Steve G for the win, I think. Whether it counts as a "secular purpose" I'm not quite sure, but I do think it sums up very eloquently what it's doing there.

My name goes here. said...

Here's my entry:

Bless their hearts.

Skyler said...

Because religious bigots will insist that there is a god and will make their feet go stompy if they don't get their way.

And they will insist that because some people 200 years ago did something good in founding our country that they can then trample our religious freedom enshrined in our country's laws and insist on a state religion.

Or else.

einar said...


It simply reflects, and is an expression of, the ideals and historical conditions under which the nation was established.

Einar

Utah Chris said...

Isn't that what the hijackers said right before they drove planes into the twin towers?

El Pollo Raylan said...

Utah Chris said...
Isn't that what the hijackers said right before they drove planes into the twin towers?

No, it's not: Allahu Akbar. But since you went there and seem bent on conflating foreign phrases, try Gott mit uns. I'm sure it will fit your style.