Editor’s note: On Nov. 17, Michael Newdow filed his lawsuit challenging “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today sidestepped a dispute over the constitutionality of putting “In God We Trust” on government buildings.
Earlier this year justices were splintered on the appropriateness of Ten Commandments displays in and near government buildings.
The Court did not comment in rejecting an appeal over an “In God We Trust” inscription on the Davidson County Government Center in Lexington, N.C.
The inscription, in 18-inch block letters, was paid for with donations from individuals and churches in 2002. It is more prominent than the name of the building, according to opponents.
Charles F. Lambeth Jr. and Michael D. Lea, two lawyers who regularly practice in the North Carolina center, filed the lawsuit.
In May, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, noting that “In God We Trust” appears on the nation’s coins and was made the national motto by Congress.
“In this situation, the reasonable observer must be deemed aware of the patriotic uses, both historical and present, of the phrase ‘In God We Trust,’” the panel ruled.
George Daly, the Charlotte, N.C., attorney for opponents of the inscription, told justices in a filing that “In God We Trust’ is the national motto, but it is also a religious creed, a statement of communal religious belief.”
James Morgan Jr., the county’s attorney, said that Ten Commandments displays are different from “In God We Trust” which has “been displayed for decades on government buildings and on the coins and paper money.”
The case is Lambeth v. Board of Commissioners of Davidson County, 05-203.
Meanwhile, an atheist who has spent years trying to ban recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is now challenging the national motto printed on U.S. currency.
Michael Newdow said yesterday that he planned to file a federal lawsuit this week asking for the removal of “In God We Trust” from U.S. coins and dollar bills. He claims it’s an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and “excludes people who don’t believe in God.”
Newdow, a Sacramento doctor and lawyer who is an avowed atheist, used a similar argument when he challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because it contains the words “under God.” He took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2004 said he lacked standing to bring the case (Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow) because he didn’t have custody of his daughter.
An identical lawsuit later brought by Newdow on behalf of parents with children in three Sacramento-area school districts is pending with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a judge sided with the plaintiffs in September.
Newdow said his efforts are not spurred by an atheistic agenda, but rather by a desire to see the government adhere to the U.S. Constitution. He dismissed opponents’ arguments that references to God in government honor the country’s religious roots, saying constitutional rights should take precedent.
“It’s not the history that counts. It’s not the patriotism. What it is, is these people want to get their religious views in our government,” he said.