A Satanist who objects to the use of the national motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency does not have a case for a violation of his constitutional and statutory rights, a federal appeals court held Thursday.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to revive the lawsuit Kenneth Mayle filed against the federal government under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
The court rejected the argument that placing the motto on cash and coins amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity — or, at least, of a monotheistic concept of God — and forces anyone who uses money to affirm a religious message.
The First Amendment’s establishment clause “does not mandate the eradication of all religious symbols in the public sphere,” the court wrote, citing Salazar v. Buono, 559 U.S. 700 (2010).
Under that principle, it wrote, identifying “a single religious component of a challenged activity” is not enough to support a claim under the establishment clause.
Instead, the circumstances surrounding the challenged government activity must lead a reasonable person to conclude the activity establishes or tends to establish a religion, the court wrote, citing Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. v. Concord Community School, 885 F.3d 1038 (7th Cir. 2018).
The court rejected the argument that “religious sentiment” was primary motive behind the government’s decision in 1955 to put the words “In God We Trust” on currency.
“The Cold War was at its height during the mid-1950s, and so it is just as accurate to say that the motto was placed on U.S. currency to celebrate our tradition of religious freedom, as compared with the communist hostility to religion,” Chief Judge Diane P. Wood wrote for a panel of the court.
“Moreover, even if the motto was added to currency in part because of religious sentiment, it was also done to commemorate that part of our nation’s heritage.”
And the commemoration of the nation’s religious heritage, Wood continued, takes up just a fraction of the surface space of U.S. currency.
“In the case of currency, the motto is one of many historical reminders; others include portraits of presidents, state symbols, monuments, notable events such as the Louisiana Purchase and the national bird,” she wrote.
The panel acknowledged that using currency “is essentially obligatory” for people who cannot or will not use debit or credit cards.
But such people are not being coerced to convey a religious message in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment and free speech clauses, the panel wrote.
“[T]he recipient of cash in a commercial transaction could not reasonably think that the payer is proselytizing,” Wood wrote.
The panel affirmed a decision by then-U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve to dismiss Mayle’s suit.
St. Eve now serves on the 7th Circuit.
Mayle, a Chicago resident who represents himself in the case, could not be reached for comment.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Harms Hartzler and Lowell Sturgill Jr. of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Spokesman Joseph Fitzpatrick of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department could not be reached for comment.
Mayle says he is a follower of the religious philosophies of non-theist Satanism and Thelema.
In a separate suit challenging Illinois laws prohibiting bigamy, adultery and fornication, Mayle said Thelema allows “all forms of human sexual expression between consenting adults.” Ken Mayle v. David Orr, et al., No. 17 C 449.
St. Eve dismissed that suit in April 2017, holding legal precedent supports the state’s ban on being married to more than one person at a time.
In that case, St. Eve also held Mayle lacked standing to challenge the laws against adultery and fornication because those laws are no longer enforced.
St. Eve dismissed Mayle’s currency suit in September 2017.
In upholding the dismissal, the 7th Circuit panel also rejected Mayle’s contention that placing the motto on currency runs afoul of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
The placement of the motto passes muster because “it is neutral and generally applicable,” the panel wrote.
And it rejected the argument that having the motto on currency places an undue burden on Mayle’s exercise of his religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Mayle, the panel wrote, “likens himself to a fundamentalist Christian baker who would be forced to endorse gay marriage — a practice that violates his religious beliefs — by selling a couple a wedding cake.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the baker’s case this term, the panel wrote, citing Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop Inc., 2015 COA 115, cert. granted, 138 S. Ct. 419 (U.S. Oct. 30, 2017) (No. 16-111).
“No matter how that case is decided, however, no reasonable person would believe that using currency has religious significance,” Wood wrote.
The panel noted it was joining every other federal appeals court that had ruled on the matter — the 2nd Circuit in New York, the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, the 9th Circuit in San Francisco and the 10th Circuit in Denver — in holding that having the national motto on U.S. currency does not violate people’s statutory or constitutional rights.
A divided 6th Circuit in Cincinnati made the same ruling Tuesday.
The 7th Circuit joined the other courts, Wood wrote, “not because we think that the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ is absolutely devoid of religious significance, but instead because the religious content that it carries does not go beyond statutory or constitutional boundaries.”
Joining the opinion were Judges Daniel A. Manion and Ilana Diamond Rovner. Kenneth Mayle v. United States of America, et al., No. 17-3221.