MANHATTAN (CN) - A First Amendment challenge to the inclusion of the phrase "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency fell apart in the 2nd Circuit on Wednesday.
"We have never addressed the question of whether the inclusion of the words 'In God We Trust' on United States currency violates the Constitution or [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] and write today to clarify the law on this issue," the opinion states. "Four other circuit courts have ruled on this question, however, and have found that the statutes at issue do not contravene the Constitution."
Rejecting that the phrase endorsed religion, the federal appeals court chalked up the phrase to "ceremonial deism."
Attorney and atheist Michael Newdow, who led 18 people and two nonprofit groups in the lawsuit, ridiculed that notion in a phone interview:
"What about 'In Jesus We Trust' - would that be 'ceremonial deism'?
"What about 'In Mohammad We Trust' - would that be 'ceremonial deism'?...
"What about 'In White People We Trust'? That would be 'ceremonial racism.'"
The Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, where Newdow serves as an honorary director, has unsuccessfully fought for 20 years to strike the phrase, which the group says found its way onto U.S. currency via Cold War-era "proselytizing" rather than the Constitution.
During the Civil War, a Baptist reverend sent a letter to then-Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, recommending that he insert a "recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins," in order to "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism," according to the U.S. Treasury website.
The phrase appeared on dollar bills after Congress voted to make it the national motto in 1956, the nonprofit group says.
Since he started representing it in 1998, Newdow filed a flurry of lawsuits to remove "In God We Trust" from the currency, "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and "So Help Me God" from the presidential oath.
None of those cases has achieved long-term success.
In 2002, the 9th Circuit ruled that schools should stop using the religious pledge, but the Supreme Court overturned that decision two years later on standing grounds.
The Supreme Court declined
to review Newdow's currency and presidential oath challenges in 2011.
Remarking that the justices now include six Catholics and three Jews, Newdow argued that they should have taken a stand against religious discrimination.
"This is really simple," he said. "We all know that this is unconstitutional. There are people who believe in God. There are people who don't believe in God. The government is supposed to be neutral as to religious beliefs."
When asked about the mounting rulings to the contrary, Newdow said: "All the judges in the world want to say that the world is flat."
As for "ceremonial deism," Newdow traced the phrase's origin to a dissent in Lynch v. Donnelly
, where Supreme Court Justice William Brennan opposed the holding that allowed a Rhode Island town to include a creche in its Christmas display.
Unlike the nativity scene, Brennan said "that such practices as the designation of 'In God We Trust' as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood, in [then-Yale] Dean [Eugene] Rostow's apt phrase, as a form a 'ceremonial deism,' protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content." (Brackets added)
In a footnote, Brennan attributed Rostrow's neologism to a book review quoting a speech that he delivered in Brown University.
Brushing aside the concept as "hearsay," Newdow lamented: "Suddenly, it's taken on a life of its own."
Vowing more lawsuits, Newdow said: "There will be, not yet. I will be bringing more."
He asked: "If it was ceremonial deism, why does everyone get bent out of shape every time we try to take it out?"