How Atheists Are Turning ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Against Religion

Jun 2, 2015

By Jack Jenkins

For almost a year now, the nation has been locked in almost constant debate over various state and federal versions of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), a 20-year-old law that was broadened by the Supreme Court in 2014 and has since been embraced by right-wing politicians and pundits — especially religious conservatives. But in an unusual twist, an atheist activist is galvanizing support for a legal campaign to use the federal RFRA to remove the phrase “In God we trust” from U.S. coins and paper bills.

Even more unusual: it just might work.

Michael Newdow, who unsuccessfully sued to have “Under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance in 2004, published a guest post on the The Friendly Atheist blog last Friday outlining a new initiative to challenge the decades-old policy of printing the religiously themed American national motto on U.S. currency. He explained that while courts have dismissed claims that the phrase violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution — which prohibits Congress from passing laws that establish one religion above others — his new legal argument is rooted in RFRA’s stipulation that religious activity cannot be “substantially burdened” without a “compelling government interest.” The government’s interest in emblazoning currency with “in God we trust,” Newdow argues, is suspect.

“Because Constitutional principles can be twisted and perverted, the challenges to this practice under the Establishment Clause have, so far, failed,” Newdow wrote. “Challenges under RFRA, however, are not as susceptible to misapplication. This is because every Supreme Court justice involved in the three RFRA cases heard to date has agreed that, under RFRA, religious activity may not be substantially burdened without a compelling governmental interest and laws narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”


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7 comments on “How Atheists Are Turning ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Against Religion

  • In Britain there is something about God on the currency. “Defender of the Faith” (in Latin). I don’t give a s*&t. But we also had Charles Darwin on the back of the 10 pound note, – I’ll go with that choice any day !

    Time for America to grow up a wee bit.

    I’m reminded of that pub sticker : “In God we trust, all others pay cash !”



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  • The motto is nonsense. “In God we trust” means we don’t do anything to regulate the monetary system. We leave it up to god who does nothing.

    God has never done anything to help the monetary system, so it makes no sense to trust him with the reigns.

    This is just a bit of lame wishful thinking.



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  • The Sherbet test investigates whether government has burdened the individual’s free exercise of religion. If government confronts an individual with a choice that pressures the individual to forego a religious practice, whether by imposing a penalty or withholding a benefit, then the government has burdened the individual’s free exercise of religion.

    This is pretty high barrier, much higher than I would have expected. Having “in god we trust” on a coin or a ten commandments monument would fail. To me, RFRA opens to the doors to 24/7 religious advertising funded by the government.

    I was surprised to find out the RFRA came from Bill Clinton, Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy, all Democrats.

    The way I read a the constitution, the government may not do anything that favours one religion over another. This does not just mean direct bribes and penalties. It would forbid things like including Chick bible tracts with your IRS forms, something the Sherbert test allows.

    I can hardly believe anyone would pass the RFRA bill in its present form unless they were part of some dominionist conspiracy.



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  • 6
    Cairsley says:

    ‘E Pluribus Unum’ was an appropriate, significant motto for the USA. They should reinstate it and be rid of ‘In God We Trust’, which is just vacuous.



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  • Absolutely Cairsley!

    Although being English/British/European I’m not really qualified to comment, I did say on this forum a few months ago that E Pluribus Unum should be reinstated on the official Great Seal of The United States.

    ‘In God we Trust’? Nineteen fifties naff!



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