Reproduced from the September 1988 issue of the _American
Oral Statement of Jon G. Murray
President, American Atheists
House Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage
Wednesday, September 14, 1988
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee on Consumer
Affairs and Coinage, I wish to begin by thanking the Chair
for inviting me to testify here today. This is the first
time, to the best of my knowledge, that an open and avowed
Atheist leader has addressed a committee of the Congress.
I am the President of American Atheists which is a
national organization of Atheists and Agnostics with two
primary goals: (1) to labor for complete and absolute
separation of state and church, and (2) to defend the civil
rights of Americans who are Atheists.
I am here today because of the concerns of my own
constituents that the phrase ``In God We Trust'' might appear
on coins commemorating the bicentennial of the Constitution.
We feel that such an intrusion would be a slander to that
The _American Atheist_ organization is twenty-five years
old this year and throughout that period we have steadfastly
maintained the position that the Constitution of the United
States was the first experiment in the Western world to set
up a secular government. In the words of the ``Great
Agnostic,'' lawyer, orator, and Republican leader Colonel
Robert G. Ingersoll in 1860 --
"In 1776 our fathers endeavored to retire
the gods from politics. They declared that
``all governments derive their just powers
from the consent of the governed.'' This was a
contradiction of the then political ideas of
the world; it was, as many believed, an act of
pure blasphemy -- a renunciation of the Deity.
. . .
"It was a notice to all churches and
priests that thereafter mankind would govern
and protect themselves. Politically it tore
down every altar and denied the authority of
every ``sacred book'' and appealed from the
Providence of God to the Providence of man."
(From ``God in the Constitution'' by Robert
Ingersoll originally published in _The Arena_
in Boston in January 1890. This text is taken
from _The New Dresden Edition of the Works of
Ingersoll_ [New York City: The Ingersoll
Publishers, Inc., 1900].
Having come from nations which were, essentially,
theocracies, having seen theocracies develop among the
colonies, and noticing the abuse therein, all reference to
god and religion were deliberately excluded from the
The Great Seal of the United States was conceived in
1776 when Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson were given the
initial task by Congress of designing it. It was Jefferson
who suggested E PLURIBUS UNUM for its motto. That motto
survived six years of debate before final adoption by
Congress as a part of the Seal in 1782, just five years
before the Constitutional convention of 1787. If that motto
was good enough for the founding fathers and the Great Seal
of the United States, it should be most appropriate for our
coins today. ``In God We Trust'' was not suggested at the
time period of the formation of our Constitution that H.R.
3314 seeks to commemorate on modern coinage. That phrase was
introduced in 1861, some seventy-two years (or three
generations of Americans) later, by a member of a fanatical
group that sought to convert our nation into an official
To commemorate the intentions of the founding fathers
through coinage, the Constitution alone -- secular in origin,
secular in intent, secular in content -- should be
Only once before has a comprehensive effort been made to
redesign our coins, by President Theodore Roosevelt in the
early 1900s. The artist he chose, Augustus Saint-Gaudens,
eliminated the phrase ``In God We Trust'' as an ``inartistic
intrusion'' into his designs for the coins and President
Roosevelt agreed with the artist so that the coins were
issued in 1907 without it.
American Atheists understands that the prior laws of
1908 and 1955 are an impediment to the issuance of new
coinage without the motto ``In God We Trust.'' Nonetheless we
ask that this committee consider making a recommendation to
Congress to amend those laws to allow the issuance of
_secular_ coinage commemorative of our secular Constitution.
We want this committee to know, also, that American Atheists
intends to mount new and continued federal legal challenges
to the laws of 1954, 1955 and 1956 that placed ``Under God''
in our Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, ``In God We Trust''
on our coins and currency, and established ``In God We
Trust'' as a national motto. These three laws, passed during
the height of the hysteria of McCarthyism, are a blemish on
I thank you again for the opportunity to present the
views of patriotic American Atheists here today. I will be
happy to entertain any questions from you Mr. Chairman, or
other members of the committee.
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