Famed attorney Michael Newdow is back with a new lawsuit representing Atheists’ rights. The Sacramento-based lawyer previously filed (twice) to have the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. Both times, he came up unsuccessful, but he’s back to rumble again with a suit against Congress and the Secretary of the Treasury. This time, Newdow seeks to strike the phrase “in God We Trust” from U.S. currency.
In a new federal lawsuit in Ohio, Newdow poses a few arguments. First, he takes the obvious route by saying the phrase violates separation of church and state and is therefore unconstitutional. Within the lawsuit, one plaintiff (out of 41) makes the following claim:
“[My atheism] is substantially burdened because he is forced to bear on his person a religious statement that causes him to sense his government legitimizing, promoting and reinforcing negative and injurious attitudes not only against Atheists in general, but against him personally.”
The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits Congress from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” but Newdow isn’t solely relying upon this clause. He’s also using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would require Congress to prove “a compelling governmental interest” toward pushing a religion onto citizens. Newdow is preparing similar lawsuits in several jurisdictions, so he’s not done yet. Here’s how Newdow explained his reasoning last year:
“There is obviously no compelling government interest in having ‘In God We Trust’ on our money. We did fine for the 75 years before the phrase was ever used at all, and continued to do fine for the subsequent 102 years before such inscriptions were made mandatory … the vast majority of nations manage to function without religious verbiage on their money.
“For those who feel that being forced by the government to carry a message that violates their religious ideals is substantially burdensome, lawsuits are now being prepared in the seven (of twelve) federal circuits that have not yet heard challenges to this governmental practice.”
Newdow hopes at least one appeals court will find the RFRA has been violated. His statutory tactic may spring from the failure of the most recent Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit, which ended with an appeals court saying that “under God” doesn’t coerce anyone to participate in a religious exercise. However, one could always argue that there’s no way to avoid using money, but one can always refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance.