Last week, I wrote on these pages about some cases of recent anti-Christian brutality outside of the United States. Although Christians continue to be challenged in the courts here in the United States, there was one recent common-sense decision made by some members of our nation’s judiciary. In New York City, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by 18 atheists and humanists, the New York City Atheists, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) seeking removal from all United States currency of the national motto, “In God We Trust.” The plaintiffs alleged that their repeated use of federal currency bearing the national motto forced them to endorse the idea of the existence of God each time they undertook a financial transaction. One plaintiff, a coin collector, also said she was forced to stop collecting coins because she was repeatedly angered by the presence of the motto on U.S. coinage. (Yes, that is really what she asserted.) However, Judge Harold Bear, Jr., concluded that the presence of the national motto does not create a “substantial burden” on the plaintiffs. Judge Baer wrote, “While Plaintiffs may be inconvenienced or offended by the appearance of the motto on currency, these burdens are a far cry from the coercion, penalty, or denial of benefits required under the ‘substantial burden’ standard.” “In God We Trust” was added to all U.S. currency in 1955, one year after President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Atheists repeatedly have challenged the use of the phrase on monuments, government buildings, and currency.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement from the American Center for Law and Justice (“ACLJ”) that the judge’s opinion in the case is “welcome and well-reasoned.” The ACLJ filed an amicus brief in this case, which stated in pertinent part:
The national motto simply echoes the principle found in the Declaration of Independence that our freedoms come from God and not the state. The national motto was adopted for the express purpose of reaffirming America’s unique understanding of this truth. … The Establishment Clause was never intended as a guarantee that a person will not be exposed to religion or religious symbols on public property, and the Supreme Court has rejected previous attempts to eradicate all symbols of this country’s religious heritage from the public’s view.
Indeed, Mr. Sekulow!
In New Hampshire, the FFRF objected to Concord High School administrators for “allowing” a mother of two children who attend the high school, Lizarda Urena, from praying silently on the front steps of the high school. She began to pray and read Bible verses last February after bullets were found in one of the high school’s bathrooms. She expressed concern for the safety of the students. Ms. Urena signs in as a visitor each morning at the high school, and then prays silently for 10 to 15 minutes on the high school’s steps.
FFRF complained to the school district about Ms. Urena’s activities. “We sent an open records request to the school district, asking them for copies of any meeting minutes or any sort of documents which gave this woman permission to pray on school property,” said FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert. (Emphasis added.) Following the complaint by FFRF, Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”) attorneys wrote a letter informing school officials the following:
Contrary to FFRF’s misleading assertions, permitting a parent to come on campus over half an hour before the start of school to pray for the school’s administrators, teachers, and students is not a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court has unequivocally ruled that there is a distinction between the government permitting speech and endorsing speech – a distinction that FFRF ignores in demanding the censorship of Ms. Urena’s prayers.
As we have seen with cases involving home-schooling, the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the fundamental right of parents to direct and control the education of their children. The ADF letter further noted that it is “a fundamental premise that parental involvement in their children’s education is good for students. Parents have legitimate rights to come to their children’s school for many purposes, whether to drop off a forgotten book, meet with a teacher to discuss behavioral problems, or stop by to offer a prayer of support and protection.”
Under our present constitutional order, as noted in the ADF letter, there is an important difference between government speech endorsing religion, which is prohibited under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses in the First Amendment protect. Contrary to the assertions of the FFRF, one actually doesn’t need to get permission to pray silently anywhere or at any time, including at a government-run high school. It is an interesting observation that an atheist should not care if someone prays, or uses coins and currency. After all, if they believe there is no god, then should it matter whether someone prays or not? Or is the FFRF just another leftist, crazy control freak? In any event, the FFRF have had a bad few days, and that is very good news, don’t you think?