First, I want to thank Meline for the question she asked at the website:

Does having “In God We Trust” on our money infringe on our constitutional rights? If so, which one(s)? Since there is supposed to be Church and State separation, isn’t money clearly related to state which therefore should be separated from church? How was this beneficial anyway?

Let’s start with church and state separation.  The phrase “separation of church and state” does not come from the Constitution, but from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was the first anti-federalist elected to the presidency.  Being generally anti-federalist themselves, this pleased many Baptists.  However, there was a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT, who were concerned.  In a letter to the president congratulating him on his electoral win, they expressed concern that since they were a minority religion in their state, their freedom of religion could be suppressed by others. Jefferson’s response to this concern was:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Jefferson, Writings, Vol. XVI

Rather than being concerned about the infringement of their rights, Jefferson said the First Amendment built a wall of separation between church and state, thus protecting the church from state intervention.  In fact this understanding of the idea of separation of church and state remained legal precedent until 1947 in the case Everson v. Board of Education.  While Establishment Clause precedent had said that the state could not aid one religion over another, this decision barred assistance to any religious organization.  This was the first time I can find where the courts used “separation of church and state” to prevent religious organizations from participating in publicly funded services.  For 160 years the courts had recognized that governments could not favor one religion over another; now, however, even the hint of anything religious has to be viewed with a prejudiced eye by any public official.

So what about having “In God We Trust” on government issued money?  Does that violate our rights?  The only right protected by the Constitution that could possibly be violated by this phrase is the Establishment Clause:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

Amendment I

Congress cannot establish a religion through law.  But does putting the phrase “In God We Trust” establish a religion?  The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines establish as:

“To found permanently; to erect and fix or settle; . . . To enact or decree by authority and for permanence; . . . To make firm; to confirm; to ratify what has been previously set or made.”

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Does putting a generic phrase about God on our money make the worship of God permanent?  Does it enact or make permanent a religion?  Does it ratify the worship of a particular deity?  Does it require you or the government to give money to a particular religion?  The answer to all of these are no.

I believe putting “In God We Trust” on our money provides two positive and completely constitutional influences.  First, it should remind those in government that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights by our creator, and they are not authorized to violate those rights.  Since the vast majority of Americans believe in God (89% according to a 2016 Gallup poll), the use of God rather than Creator is quite appropriate.  Second, it is a reminder to all Americans that we should put our trust in God (or whatever creator you believe in) rather than government.

So no, putting the phrase “In God We Trust” does not violate any of our constitutionally protected rights.  While I am sure there are people in America who do not like the phrase and wish it would be removed, there is no unalienable right to not be offended.  If we are going to live in a free society we have to recognize that we will sometimes be in the minority and allow others their wishes even if they are not ours.  If the majority of Americans believe in God and have expressed their desire to trust Him on their money, as long as they do not force others to believe so, then they should be allowed to do so.  Those who do not want our national motto on our money should go through the legislative process to get it removed, just as those who wanted it there did.  And if they cannot get the representatives of the people to pass such legislation, they should be thankful they live in a country where they have the chance to change the laws and where they are not required to support a religion they do not believe in.

Author: Paul Engel

Paul Engel founded The Constitution Study in 2014 with the goal of helping everyday Americans read and understand their Constitution. Author, blogger, podcaster and speaker, Paul writes and podcasts at http://constitutionstudy.com. You can also find his books at http://amazon.com/author/paulengel

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
Notify of