The Freedom from Religion Foundation is back on my radar, again, this time for launching another lawsuit against the government’s cozy relationship with religion. I think the general idea is sound, and I support it–there needs to be a stronger sense of laïcité in America, and there is still a too close relationship between church and state.
But some lawsuits are just dumb. Like this one:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with 19 other plaintiffs, is suing the U.S. Treasury for stamping “In God We Trust” on currency. Honorary FFRF board member Mike Newdow is acting as legal counsel in the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Feb. 1.
The complaint alleges that the religious verbiage is proselytizing, discriminatory and a per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause.
The complaint, a tour de force of historical research, unequivocally shows that there was a purely religious purpose and intent behind putting God on our coinage. Newdow quotes representatives who voted for the addition as seeking to use the money to proselytize around the world. Rep. Herman P. Eberharter (PA) said: “[T]he American dollar travels all over the world, into every country of the world, and frequently gets behind the Iron Curtain, and if it carries this message in that way I think it would be very good. I think that is one of the most compelling reasons why we should put it on our currency. … the principles laid down by God and the teachings of our way of life should be kept alive in the hearts and minds of our friends enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.”
Plaintiffs are forced to proselytize — by an Act of Congress — for a deity they don’t believe in whenever they handle money.
Really, now? Let’s break this down.
First, the “per se establishment of monotheism in violation of the Establishment Clause.” Well, what does the Establishment Clause actually say?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .
Okay then, what religion is the text “In God We Trust” establishing? Judaism? Islam? Pantheism? Rastafarianism? Christianity? Oh, well then what sort of Christianity? Catholicism? Baptism? Lutheranism? Methodism? Mormonism? Seven-Day Adventism? Ad nausea.
Monotheism, as the Foundation is focusing on, is not a religion in and of itself. It just isn’t. What monotheism is is more of a vague belief, a “philosophical position,” as I would say, on deities. There is no doctrine of monotheism, no specific church, no dogma, no holy text. There are many different montheistic religions, just putting “God” on a piece of paper doesn’t make it one.
And then there comes the question of “What God are we talking about?” I’m sure the Representative they quoted is some form of Christian, and was referring to the Christian god. But is that the god everyone is talking about? I don’t know. If you were to line up 100 different people and ask them what they thought god was, you would get 100 different answers. The fact remains that the word “god” is meaningless, so malleable it has no form and can be twisted to mean anything. No other word in the English language in the modern age has quite the same level of malleability.
Let’s get to the second part of their complaint, that it is “discriminatory.” I genuinely sympathize with this, but let’s be honest, how is it really discriminating against anyone who isn’t a believer? Are we losing our jobs? Our property? Our lives? Uh, no, we’re just exchanging money and getting some food.
And then there’s the third point: that we’re “proselytizing” against our will. This is just so ungodly stupid (if I may be granted a pun pass.) Does anyone really take a look at the dollar bill and go “Wow! There’s god on here! Using this money means I trust in god! Maybe I should go home and rethink my life and become a monk!” Seriously? Do people pay attention to that line of text at all? Most don’t even notice it, and I would suspect a vast number of Americans don’t even know it’s there. So congrats, FFRF guys, you just drew everybody’s attention to that.
And then there’s the one thing that blows this out of the water: most of our transactions aren’t cash-based. The vast majority of things we buy we buy with credit cards and online. In fact, cash accounts for only 29% of all transactions in the United States. That means in 71% of all transactions, nobody sees “In God We Trust” because they’re not using anything that has “In God We Trust” on it. Heck, they’re not using anythng that could even have anything on it because it’s intangible! (And in Sweden, cash transactions are down to 3% of their transactions. That’s it. Just 3%. That’s probably where we’re headed.)
There are things we should be focusing on in the struggle between religion and superstition and nonbelief and reason. This is not one of them. We should be going after creationism in the schools, kids being forced to pray against their will, people who are harassed or even murdered for not being believers (it has happened), and the insistence of our political leaders of bringing religious claptrap into every political decision and public policy argument. But to raise a stink about “In God We Trust” being printed on our currency? To me, that seems an epic waste of time, energy, and resources that could be devoted to other things. Nobody pays attention to it and nobody cares. People will look at this thing and go, “Really? You’re upset over that, of all things? That’s pathetic.” And where does that leave everyone who doesn’t believe? Right back where we started.
Pick your battles, guys. And sure as hell don’t pick stupid ones.