The Miracle of The Endorsement Clause

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.

Image via Screen shot


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.

10 comments on “The Miracle of The Endorsement Clause
  1. But how will a case be made? Who will file the initial complaint? How will they establish standing? These are critical hurdles.

    • Dr. Michael Newdow has been working on this case (IGWT) for literally years. remember him from the failed attempt to remove “under god” from the Pledge of Allegiance?

      ask yourself — how can a nation be both “under god” AND “indivisible” at the same time? it is a logical impossibility — America is a secular nation, so this is a tautology!

      nevertheless, the IGWT lawsuit is, as far as i know (and i am a plaintiff on Dr. Newdow’s Mailing List), still ongoing.

      • I wondered if he was going to go at it again. The last time he failed it was due to a lack of standing. But even the original Pledge of Allegiance is an absolute legal horror for U.S. citizens. I know very well what it means to “pledge allegiance” to anyone or anything. It’s not just a declaration of loyalty.

        • i agree — the Pledge is inherently opposed to the founding principles of the First Amendment, at the very least. i said it when i was a child because it didn’t occur to me, what i was actually doing, pledging allegiance to a flag, etc. now that i am an adult, i would certainly never say it.

  2. Dr. Ben Carson has repeatedly — over the course of several years — pointed directly to the presence of the phrase “In God We Trust” on America’s currency as “proof” that we are a xtian nation and that the importance of religion is thus recognized in our nation. he has a lot of adherents that agree with him on this. could he be the right figurehead to target for a lawsuit?

    • Nope. It has to be a government organization or body that is actively promoting the use of the IGWT moto and in such a way that the party suing can show some form of personal injury from it.

      • Well, Carson heads HUD, and he actively promotes the IGWT motto in such a way that my sincerely-held secular beliefs are greatly offended by his outright declarations of religious primacy. do sincerely-held beliefs only count for something when they are held by non-secular people? that seems like it would be anti-First Amendment, no?

        • He DOES work for HUD (unfortunately). The problem is do you personally and directly interact with the department? If so have any of your interactions involved the use of the IGWT in a manner that is non-ceremonial (whatever THAT means)? Those are your legal tests for personal standing and injury. You meet those you have a case.

          • i wonder — can i challenge established legal tests and instead suggest different, more appropriate tests? not sure yet — just an offhand question, so far, but that non-ceremonial crap doesn’t do much for me.

            i’m especially bothered by SCOTUS’s establishment of the “sincerely-held religious beliefs” standard that has caused so much hatred and divisiveness; i’d like to see that directly challenged.

          • Legal tests come under the area of “Stare decisis”. I actually DO have a challenge in mind but it’s a complex and controversial argument. It goes back to a VERY early SCOTUS finding that hasn’t had any application since the court produced it.
            Legal tests are generally protective so you need to make sure that your challenges don’t have adverse effects to others if found in your favor.

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