While most Americans are in support of the first amendment’s protection of religious freedom, attorney and activist Michael Newdow is bringing a lawsuit to remove the phrase “In God We Trust” from US currency. As Newdow argues, the inclusion of the phrase violates the separation of church and state, and is thus unconstitutional. If successful, the lawsuit would result in the religious phrase being removed from paper currency and coins.
Newdow has brought similar lawsuits in the past, such as his challenge to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
This is not the first time that Newdow has brought this particular lawsuit to court either, as the atheist attorney has seen his lawsuit fail multiple times before. What Newdow’s argument hinges upon is the idea that the phrase amounts to an establishment of religion, which would be in violation of the first amendment.
If successful, however, Newdow’s reasoning could open the door to the removal of God’s name from any and all areas of government. The first amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” What the court must decide is whether the mere mentioning of God’s name constitutes an official endorsement of religion, which the government has repeatedly denied it does. The phrase, after all, does not make any distinction of a particular religion, and so the reference to God could be interpreted as referencing any theistic religion. This point is of little consolation to atheists like Newdow, however, who hold that the acknowledgement of any god is contradictory to their views.
In any case such as this, there is conflict between those arguing the “free exercise” portion of the first amendment and those arguing against the “establishment of religion” portion. One side says that the government has no right to censor free religious expression, while the other side says that they have no right to proclaim either the existence or the moral superiority of any deity.
While atheists argue against our country’s religious background, the truth is that many of our country’s founding principles are based upon a theistic philosophy. The Declaration of Independence explicitly says that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Much like the phrase “In God we trust,” the Declaration’s statement of God-given rights does not make reference to a particular religion. It does, however, acknowledge the presence of a supreme being, by whom all rights are granted. What Newdow’s lawsuit is arguing is that we must abandon all sense of religious affiliation, and that the government is forbidden from even suggesting the existence of an omnipotent God. At a time when God’s name is being purged from our daily lives, Newdow is demanding that all Americans embrace the same atheistic worldview that he holds, in which God’s name cannot be so much as mentioned in any facet of public life. Whether or not you believe in God, the adoption of any such law prohibiting religious expression should make you shudder.