There is no question that having a national motto that espouses a specific religious claim violates the fundamental principle of governmental religious neutrality that underlies the first sixteen words of the Bill of Rights:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In other words, as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “The government may not … lend its power to one or the other side in controversies over religious … dogma.” Yet, since 1864, the federal government has taken the position that not only is there a “God,” but that a characteristic of Americans is trust in such a disputed religious entity.
In 1955, Congress passed a law mandating the inscription of the national motto (“I God We Trust”) on every coin and currency bill produced by the Department of the Treasury. That mandate, which has existed ever since, has been challenged numerous times. With shameful and bogus arguments that should embarrass every American citizen, three-judge panels of five of the twelve United States Courts of Appeals have upheld that unconstitutional statutes that were challenged. Under our nation’s legal system, those rulings cannot be reversed unless a higher panel (e.g., the Supreme Court) rules otherwise. Of course, the case can’t get to the Supreme Court unless some other “Circuit Court” rules in the Constitution’s favor.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that seven of the twelve Circuit Courts have not yet decided the issue. Accordingly, new challenges are being brought in each of those seven remaining Courts of Appeals. Our hope is that, in at least one of them, two judges will abide by the oath they took and uphold the Constitution and its marvelous principles. Over the next few years, we will see if that hope comes to fruition.