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