Use of “In God We Trust” on Coins and Currency

Court rules that use of the national motto does not violate the First Amendment.

Church Law and Tax 1997-03-01

Freedom of Religion

Key point. The first amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion does not invalidate all references to religion in our public life.

A federal appeals court ruled that use of the national motto “in God we trust” on coins and currency did not violate the first amendment’s nonestablishment of religion clause. The court applied the United States Supreme Court’s three—part Lemon test for determining whether or not the practice constituted an impermissible establishment of religion. Under this test, first announced in a 1971 decision (Lemon v. Kurtzman), a law or government practice challenged as an establishment of religion will be valid only if it satisfies the following three conditions-a secular purpose, a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and no excessive entanglement between church and state. The court concluded that all of these tests were met. First, the practice of printing the national motto on coins and currency has a “clearly secular purpose,” since “the motto symbolizes the historical role of religion in our society, formalizes our medium of exchange, fosters patriotism, and expresses confidence in the future.” Second, the motto’s primary effect is not to advance religion but rather “is a form of ceremonial deism which through historical usage and ubiquity cannot be reasonably understood to convey government approval of religious belief.” Finally, the court concluded that the motto “does not create an intimate relationship of the type that suggests unconstitutional entanglement of church and state.” Gaylor v. United States, 74 F.3d 214 (10th Cir. 1996). [The Establishment Clause, Display of Religious Symbols on Public Property]

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