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Federal judge dismisses suit challenging 'In God We Trust' on US currency

[JURIST] US District Judge Frank Damrell of the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] brought by atheist Michael Newdow [case website] against the US government, arguing that the words "In God We Trust" on US currency violate Newdow's rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In his 18-page opinion [PDF text], Damrell rejected Newdow's argument that the 1977 US Supreme Court decision Wooley v. Maynard [text], a case that struck down a New Hampshire law requiring citizens to display license plates with the motto "live free or die" inscribed on them, supports his contention that citing God on US currency burdens his right to freely exercise his atheistic beliefs. Damrell noted that currency, unlike passenger vehicles, does not represent its operator and instead cited a 1970 ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], Aronow v. United States, rendering "In God We Trust" a "patriotic or ceremonial character" with no government establishment or endorsement of religion.

Newdow plans to appeal the district court ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and said he is optimistic about his chances because he previously won a case [JURIST report] on behalf of his daughter in the Ninth Circuit where he argued that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause [Duke Law case backgrounder]. On appeal, however, the US Supreme Court dismissed the case [JURIST report], holding that Newdow lacked standing to bring the suit on behalf of his daughter. Reuters has more. The Sacramento Bee has local coverage.

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