New Doe Child # 1 v. United States of America (Eighth Circuit)
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Atheist activist Dr. Michael Newdow has sued yet again in his attempt to scrub “God” from the public square. This time he has sued the government to challenge our national motto, “In God We Trust,” on our nation’s coins. In two separate lawsuits on appeal in the Sixth and Eighth Circuit Courts of Appeals, Becket has weighed in as a friend of the court to explain that “God” is not a dirty word.
In each case, Newdow represents a group of atheists claiming that the national motto violates their practice of atheism under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment. The Department of Justice is representing the government and defending the motto. Becket filed friend-of-the-court briefs defending the government’s use of “In God We Trust” in both cases.
For years, Newdow has repeatedly attacked our national motto by suing the government. The motto is based on the national anthem and first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864. So far, his lawsuits have all been rejected.
Becket’s Sixth Circuit amicus brief, filed in February 2017, states: “Plaintiffs want to have it both ways. They want to reject any notion of religious belief and transcendent truth and yet call it an ‘exercise of religion.’ Neither the English language nor the law can stretch that far.”
In April 2017, Becket filed an amicus brief in the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, Missouri. In that case, Newdow argued not only that the motto violates atheists’ religious freedom, but that it establishes a religion as well. Becket’s amicus brief countered those arguments, explaining that for the Founders who wrote the First Amendment, an “establishment of religion” meant an official state church with government funding, government control, and fusion of church and state – and that honoring our nation’s religious heritage on our coinage is not one of them. The brief states, “Virginia’s earliest settlers attended twice-daily services on pain of losing daily rations, whipping, and six months of hard-labor imprisonment … . The motto’s presence on currency, of course, does not involve church attendance, compulsory or otherwise.”
Courts have protected the national motto in previous cases. In 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Newdow’s argument that the national motto violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by “establishing a monotheistic religion.” Becket filed an amicus brief defending the motto, arguing that it is not an establishment of religion to simply pay tribute to our nation’s religious heritage.
Newdow’s lawsuits are an attempt to create a heckler’s veto for atheists—a chance for anyone who disagrees with the government to dictate what it can say about our nation’s history. Becket’s briefs explain to the courts that if Newdow succeeds here, church-state conflict will balloon, and we will see a lot more litigation against God around the country.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held oral argument on March 13, 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Newdow and the Department of Justice argued their respective sides.
On August 28, 2018 the Court rejected the atheists’ attempt to strip the national motto from U.S. coins and bills, and adopted Becket’s argument that recognizing our nation’s heritage does not establish a religion. On Oct 12, 2018 Newdow sought a rehearing by the full Eighth Circuit, and on November 26, 2018, that request was denied.