Does In God We Trust violate the endosement clause?
One potential avenue to legally challenging the use of “In God We Trust” on government property is to show that the IGWT motto is now seen as actually endorsing religion, as opposed to simply representing the ceremonial deism of the founding fathers. This ceremonial deist argument has been the go-to for arguing in court that “In God We Trust” displays don’t violate the Establishment clause, as they aren’t actually intended as a religious statement by the government.
However, if evidence shows that the public no longer sees “In God We Trust” as ceremonial deism, but instead sees it as an explicit endorsement of religion, then a court challenge may be able to show that these displays do in fact violate the Establishment cause. The endorsement test proposed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the 1984 case of Lynch v. Donnelly suggests that a government action is invalid if it creates a perception in the mind of a reasonable observer that the government is either endorsing or disapproving of religion. If the government is generally seen as endorsing Christianity with its “In God We Trust” displays, it thus violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, even if the government’s original intent was to symbolize ceremonial deism only.
As you will see in this video from the 1994 movie “Miracle on 34th street” the popular perception was, and still is, that the U.S. Government does indeed endorse a deity, and by extension religion, by having In God We Trust on currency and as our motto.