GOD ON OUR COINS
by Jon Murray
AMERICAN ATHEISTS -- INFO@ATHEISTS.ORG

Preface

Written Statement of Jon G. Murray, President, American Atheists, Inc. 7215 Cameron Road Austin, TX 78752-2973 submitted to U.S. House of Representatives

One Hundredth Congress

Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage of the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs

Rep. Frank Annuzio, Illinois, Chairman

Supplemental to oral remarks to be given Wednesday, September 14, 1988, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2128 Rayburn House Office Building at a hearing of the Subcommittee on H.R. 3314, legislation "To modernize United States circulating coin designs of which one reverse will have a theme of the Bicentennial of the Constitution."

Opening Statements

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, American Atheists is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated "to advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways, the complete and absolute separation of state and church."[*1] It is with this purpose in mind that our interest has been drawn to H.R. 3314, a bill "to modernize United States circulating coin designs for which one reverse will have a theme of Bicentennial of the Constitution" now under consideration by the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage. American Atheists are staunch supporters and defenders of both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution of the United States. Our Constitution was a pioneer document among the founding documents of nations in that it nowhere contained a single reference to a deity or divine inspiration. Instead it began by rooting its authority in "We the People," a direct and poignant departure from the divine right of kings from which so many of our forefathers fled to these shores. The importance of the doctrine of separation of state and church that compelled many of the settlers and immigrants to this country to fell their native lands and seek a country where religion was not an integral part of the government.

American Atheists, therefore, applauds the introduction of H.R. 3314 in the House of Representatives by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-LA), Rep. Carroll A. Campbell, Jr. (R-SC), and Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-WI). We feel that it is high time that the Constitution of the United States be honored, particularly in its bicentennial year of 1989, by the government of the United States. We have no objection to the coins of the United States being used as a vehicle to commemorate that two-hundredth anniversary. Such a commemoration is secular in nature and is in keeping with the laws of the United States, in particular the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.

We do, however, object to the fact that pursuant to 31 U.S.C. Section 324 ("Inscriptions on Coins," May 18, 1908) and 31 U.S.C. Section 324a ("Inscriptions on Currency and Coins," July 11, 1955) the coins proposed by H.R. 3314 would bear upon them the motto "In God We Trust." It is our position that the inclusion of that motto on coins and currency violates the Free Speech, Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in that it is a religious phrase showing that the government has selected and established a particular monotheistic type of religion. Atheists, as other citizens, must carry with them at all times and "present" this religious slogan, presumably as their own, every time they purchase with cash. It, therefore, violates the Free Exercise clause.

In addition, Atheists cannot remove this religious slogan because there is a criminal law (18 U.S.C. Sections 331 and 333) prohibiting same, and thus they are denied the right of free speech and equal protection under the laws, being forced to speak the religious words of Congress by repeatedly presenting the religious motto and slogan adopted by the United States Congress. We also find it particularly inappropriate, in conjunction with the trust of H.R. 3314, to slander the founding document that this bill purports to commemorate by including such religious graffiti as the motto "In God We Trust" along with the designs suggested by the bill. I would be far more in keeping with the nature of the document that H.R. 3314 seeks to commemorated to have the coins on which suck commemoration appears remain as secular as the Constitution itself. We would like to propose the substitution of the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" for the motto "In God We Trust." The historical importance of that phrase and its origin was presented succinctly in a paper read at the Annual Convention of the American Numismatic Association, Buffalo, N.Y., August 23 to 28, 1930, by C. W. Foster, entitled "Origin and History of the Two Mottoes Used on Modern United States Coins."

The following is the pertinent excerpt.

E Pluribus Unum

The E Pluribus Unum is found "In Moretum," a poem dwelling on habits and customs ascribed to a vigil:

Meaning that "the species of pottage which forms at once the title and subject is described as being made of various materials which the peasant grinds up a pestle."

English newspapers, for more than half a century before the union of the colonies, carried E Pluribus Unum as part of their motto to imply that their product was the work of many...

On July 4, 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were appointed by the Congress to draft a design for the Great Seal of the United States. Thomas Jefferson submitted the first design to Congress on August 10, 1776. The motto used on the seal was E Pluribus Unum, meaning "One Unity Composed of Many Parts." This design, however, was rejected by Congress and after failing to agree on half a dozen different designs in as many years, Congress finally turned the drafts over to Mr. Thomson, Secretary of Congress , early in 1782, and instructed him to complete the project.

Thomson asked many of his friends to help him. among them a young man by the name of Barton. Barton worked rapidly and produced a design which Thomson presented to Congress, which accepted it on the tenth day of June, 1782. It was used for the first time on September 16, 1782. The design was the spread eagle with the heart-shaped shield in front of it, and holding a few arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other, with a scroll held in its beak bearing the motto E Pluribus Unum.

The first coin struck in this country that bore this motto was the New Jersey cent of 1786

The motto was first used on the coins struck at the United States Mint in 1795.

It can be clearly seen that the motto "E Pluribus Unum" meaning "One Unity Composed of Many Parts" is a fitting motto to describe the Constitution of the United States as a document that was indeed the product of a unity of many parts from many minds. The fact that the Constitution of the United States contains no reference veto deistic deity, unlike the prior Declaration of Independence, is profoundly and historically significant and should be taken into account in any symbolic recognition of the bicentennial of its ratification.

American Atheists understands that the omission of "In God We Trust" from the half dollar, quarter dollar, dime coin, five-cent coin and one-cent coin as proposed by H.R. 3314, and or the substitution of an alternate motto, would require an amendment to modify 31 U.S. C. Section 324 and 31 U.S.C. Section 324a for the purposes of special coinage issue commemorating the bicentennial of the Constitution. We respectfully submit that such an amendment be recommended by the Committee to the full House. The coinage can be distributed and used very efficiently without a religious motto as, in fact, it was for many years prior to the laws cited herein.

It is important for the Committee to know that American Atheists and others have mounted legal challenges to the constitutionality of the motto "In God We Trust" on the currency and coins in the past. Those attempts were unsuccessful but they have served as a learning experience for new legal actions which American Atheists intends to file in 1989, the Constitutional bicentennial year, in the federal courts. The prior cases were "Aronow v. United States," 432 F.2d 242 (1970) in the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, and "Madalyn Murray O'Hair, et al. v. W. Michael Blumenthal, Secretary of Treasury, et al" 588 F.2d 1144 (1979) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In the former case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency "In God We Trust" has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise" 432 F.2d 242, at 243. In the latter case, the United States District Court, Western District of Texas, speaking with a reference to the wording of the Ninth Circuit above, ruled in the "O'Hair v. Blumenthal" challenge that, "From this it is easy to deduce that the Court concluded that the primary purpose of the slogan was secular; it served as secular ceremonial purpose in the obviously secular function of providing a medium of exchange. As such it is equally clear that the use of the motto on the currency or otherwise does not have a primary effect of advancing religion," 462 F. Supp. 19 (W.D. Tex 1078), a ruling sustained by the Fifth Circuit.

It is the continued position of American Atheists, despite these rulings, that the laws providing for the national motto and placement of the slogan on the currency of the United States clearly fails all three tests of constitutionality under the First Amendment as stated in "Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist," 413 U.S. 756 (1973), "Taken together these decisions dictate that to pass muster and the Establishment Clause the law in question, first, must reflect a clearly secular legislative purpose, e.g., "Epperson v. Arkansas," 393 U.S. 97 (1968); second, must have primary effect that neither advances no inhibits religion, e.g., "McGowen v. Maryland," 366 U.S. 420 (1961): "School District of Abington Township v. Schempp," 374 U.S. 203 (1963); and, third, must avoid excessive government entanglement with religion e.g., "Walz v. Tax Comm'n," 397 U.S. 664 (1970), "Lemon v. Kurtzman," 403 U.S. 602, 612-613 (1971), and "Tilton v. Richardson," 403 U.S. 672, 678 (1971)."

The National Motto

Law 36 U.S.C. 186, titled "National Motto," states in its entirety: "The national motto of the United States is declared to be 'In God We Trust.' This law, (1) has no clear secular purpose, (2) advances religion, and (3) entangles government with religion excessively, thereby failing all three tests for constitutionality under the Establishment Clause. Also, 31 U.S.C. Section 324, titled "Inscriptions on coins," states in its entirety: Upon one side of all coins of the Untied States there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word "Liberty," and upon the reverse side shall be the figure or representation of an eagle, with the inscriptions, "United States of America" and "E Pluribus Unum" and a designation of the value of the coin; but on the dime, 5-, and 1-cent piece, the figure of the eagle shall be omitted. The motto "In God We Trust" shall be inscribed on all coins. Any coins minted after July 23, 1965, from 900 fine coin silver shall be inscribed with the year 1964. All other coins shall be inscribed with the year of the coinage or issuance unless the Secretary of the Treasury, in order to prevent or alleviate a shortage of coins of any denomination, directs, that coins of the denomination continue to be inscribed with the last preceding year inscribed on coins of the denomination."

This law purports to have the secular purpose of fixing "inscriptions on coins" and some of those inscriptions and representations are secular, such as the word "Liberty" and the representation of the eagle. However, as in "Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist," the court notes, "Our cases simply do not support the notion that a law found to have a 'primary' effect to promote some legitimate end under the state's police power is immune from further examination to ascertain whether it also has the direct and immediate effect of advancing religion." The Slogan "In God We Trust" placed on coinage has the direct and immediate effect of advancing religion. Law 31 U.S.C. Section 324 fails by the first test to be constitutional. Law 31 U.S.C. Section 324a, titled "Inscription on currency and coins," states in its entirety, At such time as new dies for the printing of currency are adopted, the dies shall bear, at such place or places thereon as the Secretary of the Treasury may determine to be appropriate, the inscription "In God We Trust" and thereafter this inscription shall appear on all United States currency and coins. This law (1) has no clear secular purpose, (2) advances religion, and (3) entangles government with religion excessively, thereby failing all three tests for constitutionality under the Establishment Clause.

Neither "Aronow v. United States" nor "O'Hair v. Blumenthal" was accepted on petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.

It is the intention of American Atheists to pursue to the causes of action set forth in those cases in circuits other than the Ninth or Fifth Circuits with the goal of placing the issues in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is our position that the Supreme Court will declare the mandatory inclusion of "In God We Trust" on coins and currency to be unconstitutional.

It is important, in view of the stated purpose of H.R. 3314, to turn at this point to a historical review of how the phrase "In God We Trust" came to be included on United States coins and currency. The first directions as to mottoes on currency were given in Statute II, Chap. III, January 18, 1837, "An Act supplementary to the act entitled 'An Act establishing a mint, and regulating the coins of the United States.' "In it (a) Section 2m Sixth reads: "The engraver shall prepare and engrave with the legal devices and inscriptions, all the dies used in the coinage of the mint and its branches." And Section 13 reads: "And be it further enacted, that upon the coins struck at the mint there shall be the following devices and legends; upon one side of each of said coins there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word LIBERTY, and the year of the coinage; and upon the reverse of each of the gold and silver coins, there shall be the figure or representation of an eagle, with the inscription of United States of American, and a designation of the value of the coin; but on the reverse of the dime and half dime, cent and half cent, the figure of the eagle shall be omitted." The coinage, at that point in history, was totally secular; as clean from a mention of a god as was the Constitution."

Post Civil War Religious Fanatacism

Then came the post-Civil War insurgence of religious fanaticism onto the national scene. On February 3, 1863, eleven Protestant denominations (including United Presbyterians and the Methodist Episcopalian General Conference) organized the National Reform Association. Their aim was to "reform" the Constitution and one of its principle purposes was to amend that document to "indicated that this is a Christian nation." The association formally petitioned Congress to amend the preamble of the Constitution so as to read:

We, the people of the United States, HUMBLY ACKNOWLEDGING ALMIGHTY GOD AS THE SOURCE OF ALL AUTHORITY AND POWER IN CIVIL GOVERNMENT, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AS THE RULER AMONG THE NATIONS, HIS REVEALED WILL AS THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND, IN ORDER TO CONSTITUTE A CHRISTIAN GOVERNMENT, AND in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS and the blessings of LIFE, liberty, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS to ourselves, our posterity, AND ALL THE PEOPLE, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [Proposed amendments have been capitalized.]

The Christian amendment never succeeded in obtaining the approval of Congress of any of the states. The National Reform Association attracted many eminent men into its ranks. These were men such as Supreme Court Justice William Strong, Prof. J. H. McIlvaine of Princeton, former governors J. W. Geary and James Pollock of Pennsylvania, J. M. Harvey of Kansas, and J. W. Stewart of Vermont. The most important of these to the history of coinage was James Pollock. President Lincoln picked him as the mint's tenth director in 1861, and he remained in that job until he resigned in 1867. The nation thus had a Director of the Mint during that period who was among those who wanted to make the United States an official theocracy.

An 1861 Letter of Correspondence

During the tenure of Director Pollock the Rev. Mark Richards Watkinson (1824-1877), pastor of "The Old Ridley Baptist Meeting House" which came to be known as "The First Particular Baptist Church of Ridleville," (which in turn changed its name to "The Prospect Hill Baptist Church" in 1887) founded in 1832 in what was Ridleyville and is now Prospect Park, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, sat down on November 13, 1861, and wrote then Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. The letter reads as follows:

Within a week after receipt of Re. Watkinson's letter, Secretary Chase sent a letter to the new Director of the Mint, James Pollock.

The coin motto had been born. Congress was approached and "An Act in Amendment of an Act entitled, 'An Act Relating to Foreign Coins and the Coinage of Cents at the Mint of the United States,' approved February twenty-one, eighteen hundred and fifty seven" was passed by Congress on April 22, 1864. That Act contained the phrase "...and the shape, mottoes, and devices of said coins shall be fixed by the director of the mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury;..." Mint Directory Pollock had carte blanche and could, at his discretion, Christianize our coins.

WHAT COULD NOT BE DONE THROUGH THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE WAS DONE THROUGH THE SCHEMING OF SEVERAL MEN. The first public issue coin to employ the new motto was the bronze two-cent piece which was issued from 1864 to 1873.

The next person to influence the coinage design was Theodore Roosevelt. On August 13, 1903, Roosevelt saw an equestrian statue of General Sherman which the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens had prepared for the Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park in New York City. Roosevelt wrote Saint-Gaudens that day about how he admired his work. Then, in July of 1905, Roosevelt wrote Saint-Gaudens again and asked the artist to prepare his inauguration medal. After seeing the quality of that medal he decided that the same artistic skill should be applied to money. He consulted with Secretary of the Treasury Shaw and found that there was nothing to legally stop him from asking the sculptor to submit to him new coin designs. Roosevelt wrote to Saint-Gaudens on November 6, 1905, asking him to do so.

When considering his designs, Saint-Gaudens came across the problem of inscriptions. In that regard, he considered the motto "In God We Trust" and in the words of his son Homer Saint-Gaudens in the book, The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, which he edited, said: "The motto 'In God We Trust' as an inartistic intrusion not required by law, he wholly discarded and thereby drew down upon himself the lightening of public comment."

Theodore Roosevelt Disapproved

Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of the motto "In God We Trust," but not for artistic reasons. He felt essentially that it was blasphemous for such a motto to appear on mere coins. He expresses those sentiments in a letter to William Boldly on November 11, 1907, which said in part:

Again the religious community fell upon the Congress and the President with letters of protest and with numerous petitions demanding the restoration of the motto "In God We Trust" that had appeared on *some* coins since 1864. Roosevelt realized that he could not buck public opinion on the issue. A bill was introduced into Congress in 1908. When it became obvious that the House was going to vote in favor of the bill, Roosevelt talked to Senator Thomas Carter, a Republican from Montana, about the bill, referring to a statement by a member of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, saying:

The bill was passed in the House on March 8, 1908, and the Senate on May 13, 1908, becoming Public Law No. 120. The law said in part "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the motto 'In God We Trust,' heretofore inscribed on certain denominations of the gold and silver coins of the United States of America, shall hereafter be inscribed upon all such gold and silver coins of said denominations as heretofore." Theodore Roosevelt signed it, as approved, on May 18, 1908.

Later, the Cold War was to come to the United States and with it the hysteria of McCarthyism. In this climate, the religious community again moved to capture the symbols of the nation. At that time a man by the name of Matthew R. Rothert from Camden, Arkansas, was the president of the Arkansas Numismatic Society. He had joined the American Numismatic Association in 1946, and was eventually elected president of that association for the 1965-1967 term. In a speech to the Arkansas group on November 11, 1953, he discussed the idea of including "In God We Trust" on paper money. The response to his speech was enthusiastic and that prompted him to send a written proposal to Secretary of the Treasury Humphrey, and also to President Eisenhower and Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks.[*4]

Just as in the case of the Rev. Watkinson in 1861, one letter prompted the wheels of the executive branch into motion and on June 7, 1995, H.R. 619 "Providing for the inscription of 'In God we Trust' on all United States Currency and Coins," was introduced in the House. In the Congressional Record, June 7, 1955, page 7796, the intent of the bill was made clear by Mr. Bennett of Florida.

I sincerely hope that the Senate will give its prompt approval to this proposal. In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continuously look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom. At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the desire of Americans to live by His will and His guidance. As long as this country trust in God, it will prevail. To serve as a constant reminder of this truth, it is highly desirable that our currency and coins should bear these inspiring words "In God We Trust."

Lyndon B. Johnson's 1955 Bill

On June 29, 1955, Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-TX) introduced Calendar No. 642, H.R. 619 "A bill to provide that all United States currency shall bear the inscription 'In God We Trust.' "the bill was passed that date without any serious debate. The Cold War, however, was not over, nor were the residuals of McCarthyism. On March 22, 1956, H.R. Res. 396 was introduced to establish "In God We Trust" as a national motto. The bill became law on July 30, 1956 (36 U.S.C. Section 186). That law regarding the establishment of a non-secular national motto, has been relied upon by the defendants in both "Aronow v. United States" and "O'Hair v. Blumental" to give "patriotic" meaning to several laws, one passed forty-eight years prior, in 1908, and one passed one year prior in 1955.

This use is to invoke the discredited theory of the efficacy of an ex post facto law in an attempt to gain authority for a prior law by referral back to a later or subsequent law. If Congress had truly been expressing the collective will of the people, the act providing for the adoption of "In God We Trust" as a national motto should have preceded the coinage motto bill of 1908.

Conclusion

We can see from the foregoing brief history that two fanatically religious individuals separated by some ninety-two years of history were principally responsible for the events that culminated in the placing of an unconstitutional religious motto on United States coins and currency. The issue of coin and currency mottoes was never submitted to the electorate for any type of vote. It was not by the overwhelming voice of the people that a religious motto was interjected into our coins, currency, national motto, and pledge. The events of 1954, 1955, and 1956 in regard to the establishment of religious mottoes slipped through Congress almost unnoticed in the midst of the McCarthy reign of terror. It is also evident that Theodore Roosevelt was only desirous of making a good faith effort to modernize and beautify the coinage. A similar effort is being instituted here today in the form of H.R. 3314.

Yet, that seemingly innocent desire of Theodore Roosevelt plunged him into the midst of controversy and brought the wrath of the religious community down upon his administration. American Atheists does not desire to see the deliberations concerning H.R. 3314 turn into a forum for modern day religious zealots to arouse the level of controversy that was generated by Theodore Roosevelt's attempt to improve the coinage.

In that regard w are somewhat apprehensive that our input into the hearings on H.R. 3314 will generate an avalanche of letters to the members of the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, from the more religious of their constituencies. On the other hand, American Atheists feels that it is important to honor the Constitution during its bicentennial year in a way that will not obfuscate the contribution of the document's secular nature, a trait which makes it unique among founding documents.

American Atheist wants to leave the Committee with the point that the Atheists are patriotic Americans who desire only to exhibit their patriotism in secular ways. When the government of the United States sees fit to place the value of patriotism or adherence to constitutional principles predominantly in a religious context, whether on coins or in the form of a pledge, an oath, or an invocation, it serves to weaken the bonds that hold all citizens of this country in common.

We ask that the symbolism on our coins and currency not serve to divide Americans into religionists and secularists, but tend to unite all citizens in an equal appreciation of our constitutional democracy.

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Footnotes

1. From the "Aims and Purposes" of American Atheists as recorded in documents of incorporation.

2. According to a Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures Report to accompany H.R. 17296 titled "To Restore The Motto 'In God We Trust' to The Coins of the United States," reported on February 27, 1908, as a "History of the Motto 'In God We Trust.'"

3. Ted Schwarz, The Golden Art of St. Guadens, "Coins," September 1976, p. 76.

4. Dudley L. McClure, "The Motto on our Money -- In God We Trust," "Coins," December 1972, p. 47.

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