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Justices sidestep 'In God We Trust' dispute

By The Associated Press
11.14.05

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.


Previous
4th Circuit backs national motto on N.C. government building
Unanimous three-judge panel finds 'In God We Trust' doesn't violate separation of church, state. 05.16.05

Related

Federal judge to stay ruling in Pledge case

Announcement sets stage for Michael Newdow, California school districts to take dispute to 9th Circuit. 10.06.05

Court rejects atheist's challenge to 'In God We Trust'
Federal judge says words on currency amount to secular national slogan that doesn't trample on Michael Newdow's non-religious views. 06.13.06

Calif. district votes to display 'In God We Trust' in classrooms
Bakersfield board decides 4-1 to highlight phrase in poster that will also feature portions of Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence. 11.08.07

Fighting over religion in 2006: Déjà vu all over again?
By Charles C. Haynes Intelligent design, Ten Commandments, Pledge of Allegiance, Bible courses and, yes, Christmas will continue to be contested. 01.08.06

Our motto risks becoming ‘Over God we fight’
By Charles C. Haynes Even something as innocuous as the 50th anniversary of “In God We Trust” is an occasion for culture warring. 07.23.06

Over God We Fight
By Charles C. Haynes Promoting 'In God We Trust' produces court cases rather than religious belief — because trusting in God is an act of faith, not a national slogan. 09.30.07

Ten Commandments, other displays & mottos

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