A U.S. appellate court has ruled against a self-described Satanist from Chicago who had filed a lawsuit seeking to remove the motto “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency.
The ruling, released May 31, found that “a reasonable observer would not perceive the motto on currency as a religious endorsement.”
Kenneth Mayle, who describes himself as a non-theistic Satanist, filed the original lawsuit in May 2017. A lower court had dismissed the suit, and Mayle appealed.
The 36-year-old told the Chicago Tribune that carrying and using money with the motto “In God We Trust” makes him feel compelled to take part in a “submissive ritual” by spreading a religious message with which he disagrees.
He does not like to use credit or debit cards due to late and overdraft fees, as well as the potential for security breaches, and says that he would ideally prefer to use cryptocurrency for all transactions.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the currency motto “is similar to other ways in which secular symbols give a nod to the nation’s religious heritage,” such as the line “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
A similar suit received a ruling on May 29 from the 6th Circuit Court of U.S. Appeals.
In that suit, a group of atheists and humanists argued that the motto on the currency required them to “bear, affirm, and proselytize an objectionable message in a way that…violates their core religious beliefs.”
One Jewish plaintiff also argued that “participation in any activity that ultimately leads to the superfluous printing of G-d’s name on secular documents or to the destruction of G-d’s printed name is sinful.”
A lower court had dismissed the case, saying that cash-only transactions did not compel proselytization.
The court of appeals agreed with the lower court’s ruling. It said that plaintiffs had failed to “show a specific governmental intent to infringe upon, restrict, or suppress other religious beliefs” through the motto on U.S. currency.
Although the plaintiffs said they preferred to use cash over credit or debit cards, the court said that the existence of these alternatives meant that the plaintiffs were not forced “to choose between violating their religious beliefs or suffering a serious consequence” and therefore could not demonstrate a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion.
The phrase “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States. It first appeared on certain U.S. coins as early as 1864. A 1956 law required all U.S. currency to bear the printed phrase.
The motto has faced several lawsuits since 1970, which have been repeatedly rejected by courts.