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Judge rules favorably for motto

U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Darrell Jr. has turned down atheist Michael Newdow
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U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Darrell Jr. has turned down atheist Michael Newdow?s latest attempt to challenge the name of God ? this time the use of the national motto, ?In God We Trust,? on the nation?s coinage.

Newdow, who last year won a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ban on the use of the deity?s name in the pledge of allegiance, vowed an appeal.

The 18-page opinion was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on June 12. It cites as precedent or rationale for the turndown the 1970 Aronow case, which specifically held that the use of the national motto on American coinage was not unconstitutional.

Newdow started suit Nov. 18 against the U.S. Congress, some executive branch employees and the entire process that causes the motto ?In God We Trust? to appear on the nation?s coinage.

Brought with a 162-page complaint that is replete with footnotes and references, Newdow used the opportunity of the suit to explain why the use of the motto on coinage, which dates initially to the Civil War and the bronze two-cent piece authorized in 1864, offends the establishment of religion clause of the federal Constitution.

Newdow revealed that he started collecting coins when he was seven or eight years old, and in the intervening 40 years has been repeatedly offended that our nation?s money contains a motto invoking a deity that he does not believe in. Newdow is a self-described atheist and founding member and minister in the First Amendment Church of True Science (FACTS).

Chocked full of information ? the complaint is actually an encyclopedia on constitutional issues arising out of the separation of church and state ? the complaint contains more than 50,000 words and multiple appendices, including the resolves of various professional surveys that undertake to understand how Americans view God.

Surprisingly, the complaint ? which cites 39 separate cases ? omits the Aronow case (9th Circuit Ct. of Appeals, 1970), the Gaylor case (Colorado, 1994) and the O?Hair case (Texas, 1978), all of which are prior cases in which litigants sought to scrub the motto from the nation?s coinage.

O?Hair was Madeline Murray O?Hair, the noted atheist who unsuccessfully sued Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal to remove the motto. That case went from the Western District of Texas to the 5th Circuit, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, or a hearing, in 1979.

In Aronow, the 9th Circuit analyzed claims similar to those made by Newdow and held that the ?national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency, ?In God We Trust,? has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.?

Without being unduly technical, there have been other U.S. Supreme Court cases since then that warn against fostering an excessive entanglement with religion and require statutes to have a secular purpose.

Newdow tries to show that the whole story behind how, ?In God We trust? became part of the national motto, and engraved on paper currency and imprinted on coins, was nothing but a religious exercise.

So he sued to enjoin Peter Lefebvre, the law division counsel in charge of codifying the U.S. Code; John W. Snow, the Treasury Secretary, Henrietta Holsman Fore (misnamed as a director of the Mint); and Tom Ferguson, the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, to enjoin further use of the motto on coinage and paper money.

Fore was sued in a representative capacity, and the complaint showed that Newdow toiled on the print version for many months; he checked the Mint?s Web site in May 2005 when Fore was still director; she has since resigned and been confirmed as an assistant secretary of State.

In January 2006, Ferguson retired from the BEP; just a few weeks ago Snow resigned from the Treasury secretary post.

In the meantime, the judge ruled narrowly that precedent bound him to turn down the request. Newdow hopes the 9th Circuit will take a fresh look.