“In God We Trust” vs “In God We Trust”

The motto stamped on bills and coins
Is everywhere. The phrase enjoins,
“In God We Trust”.
Unless we wish to be so brash
As just refuse to carry cash
It seems we must.
The warnings come, so stern and dour
From representatives of our
Who crow that, when with cash we pay,
“In God We Trust” means we display
But if, perchance, you should refuse,
And go to court and, sadly, lose
Believers scoff
If that is what the phrase is for
Then let them make the claim once more…
I’ll grind it off

I’ve noticed something strange. There are two completely different versions of “In God We Trust” on American money. One type is what the courts have consistently seen in their rulings on the motto–it is an example of “ceremonial deism”, a national motto rather than a actual invocation of a god; it is hidden in purse or pocket, rather than displayed as an affirmation (the comparison is made to “Live Free Or Die” on NH license plates, which are prominently and publicly displayed, and force the user to act as an advertisement for the motto), and thus can put no burden on non-believers (or others who object). It is not religious in the slightest, but rather a nod to history and to patriotism, and complaining about it is like complaining about the shape of Washington’s nose–you may disagree, but it’s a trivial matter and not a legitimate injury. And who could complain about this “In God We Trust”? It would be like going to court complaining that the reeding on the edge of the quarter was too fine. It’s trivial. It’s nothing. I have no problem with this “In God We Trust”.

It’s the other “In God We Trust” that bothers me. The one the judges don’t seem to see, but which a great many others, from regular citizens to lawmakers to televised “experts”, constantly refer to. The phrase that the commenters at CBN, or The Blaze, clearly see in yesterday’s story. The one referred to on Fox’s “The Five”, in support of the (equally ceremonial) “under God” pledge. The one commenters used to bash Jessica Ahlquist. The one used to turn all atheists into hypocrites, since they carry god around in their pockets (if there remains anyone who has not seen that little rhetorical trick, just follow the link to The Blaze, hold your nose, and read some of the comments).

That second “In God We Trust” is the one I am removing from my money. It’s perfectly legal (no more damaging on bills than “where’s George?“, and not damaging at all to coins (unlike cross pennies), which can still be used in any vending machine or parking meter, or at any store. And since the courts have decided that the presence of the phrase is no big deal, its removal is likewise a trivial matter. And those believers who are so concerned with my hypocrisy have to support my honest money, since my bearing false witness would be a sin.

Anyway, the courts have spoken yet again, and I won’t complain. I do wonder if an individual politician who uses the second “In God We Trust” to bash an atheist could ever see legal consequences. I mean, technically, in that world view such a politician is guilty of taking the lord’s name in vain… but that book is more suggestions than commandmants, innit?

I am continuing the tradition of de-godding a batch of coins whenever I see the second “In God We Trust”, and of de-godding any and all paypal donations. (I have changed my mind, though–I am going to bend over backward to make it all quarters now, and not dollar coins–I have seen evidence that the quarters remain in circulation, and evidence that shopkeepers won’t recirculate the coins, but rather simply bring them to the bank.) It’s practically no effort at all, and very satisfying.

Related posts:
To Phrase A Coin
Ceremonial De-Deism
Guess God Was Only Ceremonial After All


  1. says

    I am incredibly amused at the Christians insisting that their privilege is nothing more than “ceremonial deism.” They seem to have forgotten their own hallowed martyrs who chose death rather than acquiescing to the ceremonial deism of the Roman Empire.

  2. philipelliott says

    “Ceremonial deism” strikes me as an almost-but-not-quite oxymoron. If deism is “belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe”, then what is the point of ceremonially recognizing it? Was it Scalia who wrote the opinion that came from? It seems to me his use of that phrase displays a lack of understanding of the word

  3. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    I ink out the “god” on paper money․

    I do it at the store counter when I get bills in change – it there aren’t too many people waiting in line – and I’ve never had anyone notice much less ask me why․ The answer is that the fundies claim the very fact I am forced to handle god-spattered money proves I’m not a respectable person․
    Damn that shit․

    “I don’t believe that there is such thing as an atheist because no respectable atheist would walk around with something in his pocket that said ‘In God We Trust.’” – Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)

    Seriously, damn that shit․
    IF I had not heard Cleaver saying that, I probably never would have cared that they forced “god” on my money․ Now I do care, and I won’t put up with it in my pocket․

  4. Randomfactor says

    I carry a couple of pre-1957 singles in my wallet for just this reason.

    “Oh, yeah? SHOW me.”

  5. says

    @philipelliott #2 – The term “ceremonial deism” first appeared in Brennan’s dissent to Lynch v. Donnelly in 1984. In that case, the majority of the US Supreme Court held that government sponsored Christmas displays violated the separation of church and state. Brennan claimed that explicitly Christian religious displays — along with “In God We Trust” and “under God” — were “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.” That is to say, religious displays were no longer religious when they were ubiquitous.

    O’Conner used the “ceremonial display” argument when she wrote a concurring opinion to Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow in 2004. The majority held that Michael Newdow did not have standing to challenge the district’s use of the Pledge; O’Conner went farther and said that invoking God was a civic act and not a religious one.

    The supreme irony here is that, during most of the Roman Empire, offering incense to Jupiter, Roma and/or the guiding spirit of the Caesar was a civic act that showed loyalty to the rule of law. Many Christians refused to perform this ceremonial deism, and were persecuted, prosecuted and martyred as a result.

  6. Linda Grilli Calhoun says

    I have a standard answer to the charge that I’m a hypocrite for using money.

    I’ll give up using money when they give up using modern medicine. L

  7. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    Good answer, Linda!

    A single-hole paper punch is just big enough to neatly remove “GOD” from American paper money, without damaging its status as legal tender.

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