In God We
Trust to Stay on Coins and Currency
By Darrin Lee Unser
The motto "In
God We Trust" on United States coinage can
remain, according to a recent opinion of the 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
The three-judge court panel ruled unanimously
that the inscription could stay on both coins
and currency, rejecting arguments saying the
motto violates the separation of church and
Michael Newdow of Sacramento, California had
brought about the suit calling the
constitutionality of the motto on American coins
into question on the basis that it violates the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
This clause states "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and has
been the source of much controversy over the
years for many reasons.
The first coin ever to be struck with the motto
was the two-cent piece in 1864. It was placed
there through the actions of Treasury Secretary
Salmon P. Chase as a response to the bitter
American Civil War which was currently
embroiling the country.
After correspondence with Reverend N.R.
Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, (as well
as many others) it was felt that including an
acknowledgement would show the federal
government’s cause was a just one.
"This would relieve us from the ignominy of
heathenism," Reverend Watkinson wrote in his
letter proclaiming the benefits of including
"God" on the coinage.
"This would place us openly under the Divine
protection that we have personally claimed. From
my heart I have felt our national shame in
disowning God as not the least of our present
By 1866, most US coinage included the motto
except for a very few, the last of which was the
Buffalo Nickel which appeared from 1913-1938. In
1955, Congress mandated that it must be
inscribed on all coins.
According to the filed opinion of the three
judge panel, Newdow’s claims were foreclosed by
a previous decision by the Ninth Circuit on a
similar matter – Aronow v. United States, 432
F.2d 242 (9th Cir. 1970), and affirmed by many
other decisions in other courts. In this
specific case, the court concluded that:
"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 a patriotic or ceremonial
character and bears no true resemblance to a
governmental sponsorship of a religious
Two of the three judges concurred with this
decision. Judge Stephen Reinhardt concurred in
the result only stating that:
"Because I am now required to follow that
precedent, no matter how misguided, I am also
now required to conclude that Newdow’s claims in
this case are foreclosed by Aronow, and
therefore to concur in the result."
He goes on to state that he may have reached a
different conclusion if not bound by precedence.
An appeal by Newdow is expected.