Eighth Circuit rules ‘In God We Trust’ on U.S. currency is constitutional

By: Rox Laird on September 4th, 2018

The motto “In God We Trust” has been printed on U.S. currency since the Civil War, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit confronted the question of whether it violates the Constitution for the first time in an Aug. 28 ruling.

The answer? The motto does not violate the Constitution.

A three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based court, which has jurisdiction over Iowa and six other Midwest states, rejected arguments raised in an appeal of a Minnesota District Court decision by 27 atheists or children of atheists and two atheist organizations.

The plaintiffs argued that government-issued bills and coins bearing a “purely religious” message amount to an explicit endorsement of Christianity and monotheism. They contend that violates the Establishment Clause, the Free Speech Clause and the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, equal protection under the Fifth Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Each of these claims was rejected by the panel – consisting of Judges Raymond Gruender of St. Louis, Arlen Beam of Lincoln, and Jane Kelly of Cedar Rapids. Kelly, however, filed a separate opinion concurring with the judgment, but she disagreed with the majority’s discussion of the Establishment Clause question.

Writing for the majority, Gruender pointed out that the other federal circuit appeals courts that have considered this question have held that the motto does not violate the Establishment Clause, and the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said as much (although in dicta, or passing references in related cases).

“Thus, we are not writing on a blank slate,” Gruender wrote.

“We do, however, address this issue for the first time today under the guidance of new Supreme Court precedent, not yet considered in this circuit,” Gruender wrote, referring to the 2014 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

In Galloway the Supreme Court said the Town of Greece town council’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer did not offend the Establishment Clause, which the Court said “must be interpreted in reference to historical practices and understandings.”

While printing “In God We Trust” on currency did not begin until 1864, Gruender said the practice is in keeping with early understandings of the Establishment Clause. Religion has been a part of government since the nation’s founding, the Supreme Court has observed, and “the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him.”

The plaintiffs argued that, based on statements of public officials at the time, the intent of Congress in mandating a motto referring to one God on currency was “to suffuse our nation with (Christian) Monotheistic religion.”

But Gruender said “historical practices confirm that the Establishment Clause does not require courts to purge the Government of all religious reflection or to ‘evince a hostility to religion by disabling the government from in some ways recognizing our religious heritage.’ Precluding general references to God would do exactly that.”

Judge Kelly departed from the panel majority’s analysis of the Supreme Court’s Galloway decision, which she said “seeks to remake Establishment Clause jurisprudence in this circuit based on analysis that is overly broad and unnecessary to the resolution of this case.”

Galloway clarifies that the Establishment Clause is to be interpreted ‘by reference to historical practices and understandings,’ ” Kelly wrote. “But it also clarifies that Supreme Court precedent ‘must not be understood as permitting a practice that would amount to a constitutional violation if not for its historical foundation.’ In other words, even when history indicates that a practice does not offend the Establishment Clause, but the Court’s other Establishment Clause tests suggest that it does, history alone cannot carry the day.”

Galloway “does not make clear what history we should consider in this case,” Kelly wrote, pointing out that putting “In God We Trust” on currency happened 72 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and it was not put on all currency until 1955.

The Founders proposed several mottos for the new nation, she wrote, including “E Pluribus Unum,” and the original legend on continental coins minted in 1787 was “Mind Your Business.” Thus, “the motto’s history of inclusion on the currency tells us nothing about what the Framers thought, and does not say much of anything about what the Establishment Clause means.”

Rather than try to parse Galloway, Kelly said, “the better approach is to resort to what the Supreme Court has already told us. The Court has expressed a view that — irrespective of the Establishment Clause test applied — printing the motto on currency is permissible.”


ISU asks Eighth Circuit to stop marijuana advocates from using the university’s logo

By: Rox Laird on April 6th, 2016

Iowa State University students advocating marijuana law reform won a First Amendment victory against the university in federal court in Des Moines in January. Now ISU wants to put that victory on hold while the university’s appeal is considered by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge James Gritzner ruled that ISU violated the First Amendment rights of student leaders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) campus chapter when the university – based on the group’s political viewpoint – denied permission to use the school’s trademarked logos on NORML’s T-shirts and other materials depicting a cannabis leaf.

ISU appealed that ruling, and a flurry of preliminary motions and responses from the two sides presage a closely fought battle between students’ free speech and the university’s desire to protect its public image.

Not surprisingly, the two sides disagree on the need for a stay and issues central to the case.

The ISU defendants argue in the motion seeking a stay order that “ISU trademarks constitute government speech which they exclusively control and license in accordance with the overall goal of their trademark policies: to promote the image of the University.”

Unless the Court blocks enforcement of Judge Gritzner’s ruling, ISU says it would be “irreparably injured” because it would lose its right to control its own speech by allowing its trademarks to be associated with symbols of illicit drug use.

In response, the students say this case is not about trademarks or “government speech.” Rather, they argue, it is about “viewpoint discrimination” and how the university licenses its trademarks “when student organizations incorporate them into their speech.”

“The district court entered an injunction on summary judgment to prevent ISU from engaging in viewpoint discrimination in its trademark licensing program,” they say, and ISU’s motion for a stay pending appeal “seeks to allow ISU to continue discriminating on the basis of viewpoint until this Court decides the matter.”

What the Eighth Circuit decides on the motion for a stay might hint at how the appeals court judges see the issues. In any case, the final outcome won’t be known for several months after the case is briefed and argued.


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