Reader Opinion: In God we trust
A recent Dispatch letter finds a contradiction in the constitutional meaning of separation of church and state in the “In God we trust” printed on U.S. money. Some helpful insight might be derived from a court challenge to the “under God” words added to the Pledge of Allegiance shortly after World War II. An atheist father brought a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter to have these words removed. A circuit court in 2002 found the phrase to be unconstitutional and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Before the justices ruled, the case was halted on a procedural basis (the father did not have legal rights to represent his daughter). But this was after the case was heard and some justices had written opinions.
Chief Justice Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor defended keeping the phrase. Rehnquist stated that “It was not a religious exercise,” and “not directed to any particular God, faith or church.” O’Connor said that the reference was to a generic “God” and is “inconsequential” in any particular weight or effect. The primary pledge is to the flag; God is secondary. The argument for “In God we trust” could be that the primary image on money is a person. God is secondary.
In short, the government’s argument for making the word “God” constitutional is by emptying it of any authentic theological meaning. Or, if there is meaning, it refers to some amorphous god who is always and only on the side of the country. Some theologians call this henotheism — “loyalty to the god of my country over all others,” not the monotheistic “God of Israel met in Jesus Christ,” revealed mostly through the church.
Therefore, there may be no contradiction in the words “In God we Trust“ on our money because the Constitution makes that placement meaningless.