Many people assume that it’s illegal to stamp or write on paper currency, but that’s not the case. It’s illegal to destroy paper currency or deface it so much that it’s no longer recognizable and has to be taken out of circulation.
What does the law actually say?
Defacement of U.S. currency is regulated by 18 USC 333, which states:
[w]hoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
There’s also a law prohibiting the use of paper money as advertising, 18 USC 475, which states:
[w]hoever . . . writes, prints, or otherwise impresses upon . . . any [coin or currency] of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement, or any notice or advertisement whatever, shall be fined under this title. (Emphasis added.)
18 USC 333 is written to prohibit the malicious destruction of currency, and 18 USC 475 is written to prevent currency from becoming a vehicle for commercial advertising. Because we want stamped money to stay in circulation and we’re stamping to express our opinions about a political issue, not to make a profit, we’re good to go.
Stamped bills are not defaced. According to the U.S. Treasury Department:
Currency defacement is generally defined as follows: “Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
The key word here is intent. In stamping the bill, we have no intent to remove it from circulation. Our intent is that as many people see it as possible. How else are we to get the message out? If the bills are destroyed the first time they hit the banks, wouldn’t defeat the purpose of stamping them in the first place?
I hope this clears up any confusion any one may have had on this subject. So get out there and start stamping and crossing out In God We Trust on all your paper money.
If you want your very own stamp, you can purchase one here.