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U.S. legislators oppose atheist challenge to "In God We Trust" motto

By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service

November 23, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Forty-seven members of Congress have joined in asking a federal appeals court in San Francisco to uphold the dismissal of an atheist's challenge to "In God We Trust" as the country's national motto.

The legislators, including U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and 46 House members, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday siding with the U.S. Justice Department in opposing a lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow.

Newdow is the atheist father who previously disputed the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

His new lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sacramento last year, challenges three U.S. laws passed in the 1950s that establish "In God We Trust" as the national motto and mandate its inscription on coins and currency.

The federal lawmakers asked the appeals court to uphold a ruling in which U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell dismissed the lawsuit in June.

Their brief urges that Newdow's alleged "strategy to purge all religious observances and references from American public life must not be allowed to move forward."

The brief argues, "While the First Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life in order to suit atheistic sensibilities."

The legislators are represented by the Washington D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice.

Center Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said Wednesday, "The lower court was right on the mark in dismissing this lawsuit."

Sekulow said, "Every court that has considered this issue has reached the same conclusion: the national motto has nothing to do with the establishment of religion."

Damrell, in dismissing the lawsuit, said the issue was definitively decided by a 1970 ruling in which the 9th Circuit said the motto "is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."

But Newdow contends in an appeal brief filed in September that the 1970 ruling is "anachronistic" and has been "effectively overruled" by later U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Newdow contends the motto violates both the constitutional First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion and the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993.

Newdow, an emergency room doctor who is also a lawyer, says the motto on U.S. money advocates a belief in one god, which is contrary to his atheistic religious beliefs.

His brief argues that "as a price to pay for carrying and spending his nation's money, (Newdow) is, in essence, forced to advocate for monotheism, a religious belief system he expressly repudiates."

The defendants in the lawsuit include the U.S. treasury secretary and the directors of the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

The appeals court has not yet set a date for hearing arguments on the appeal.

Newdow's earlier lawsuit challenging the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 on the ground that he lacked standing to sue because he did not have legal custody of his daughter.

But last year, Newdow filed a new Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit on behalf of two other atheist families and their children. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled in their favor and that case is now also on appeal before the 9th Circuit.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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