It is written on US currency "In God we trust":

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I know that US constitution is secular. This link says that the founding fathers didn't even like the idea of religion in the system.

Why is this motto written on US currency?

This appears unconstitutional, so why do the courts not rule it so? What politics are in play here?

  • 5
    have you looked at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust
    – Max
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 17:37
  • 20
    @IllusiveBrian - if it was "obviously unconstitutional", the court would have ruled on that ages ago. I guess it's not nearly as obvious as you personally think (maybe because the phrase "separation of church and state" isn't actually in the Constitution)
    – user4012
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 18:32
  • 5
    It is absolutely not clear that the motto is "obviously unconstitutional". The prevailing view in court has been that this is a legal matter rather than a political one, and that the motto is not unconstitutional. See for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aronow_v._United_States
    – Deolater
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:28
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    I thought the American God was the Dollar itself.. no?
    – Mennyg
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 1:46
  • 3
    "This appears unconstitutional" Why that? Does the constitution say you cannot mention God anywhere? Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 9:23

4 Answers 4


Many people in the US have strong religious views.

This leads to many legislators expressing religious views and supporting legislation with religious implications. Generally calling ourselves a "Christian Nation" has gone out of style, but many religion inspired ideas are supported as not "really" being religious or on nominally non-religious grounds.

People who support a stricter secularism often challenge these rules using the 1st amendment of the constitution's ban on establishing a religion.

So far the courts seem to have ruled that using the word 'God' is not enough to count as establishing a religion as long as some ambiguity is allowed over whose god is meant.

  • 7
    It's worth noting that it was added to paper currency only in 1957 - and the argument can be made it was added in response to the rise and spread of communism.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 22:18
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    @BruceWayne I think that is perhaps more relevant to the other answer which deals with specific reasons for this instance. My answer is general and aimed at the idea the questioner had.
    – user9389
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 22:22
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    Note: "In God we trust": first added to US coins in 1864 during the US civil war - a very difficult time, Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 2:41
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    Quite a few Christians will use the phrase "Christian Nation" in reference to the United States. That doesn't make it legally accurate, but it is a phrase you will hear from time to time.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 3:56
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    Good broad answer, but there's actually a very specific answer: treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx
    – user1530
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 5:39

"In God We Trust" is the official motto of the United States since 1956, and was one of the nation's unofficial mottos since the 1800s, possibly originating with a line in the fourth stanza of the national anthem: "And this be our motto: 'In God is our Trust'".

  • 3
    Then, the anthem also seems to be unconstitutional.
    – user4514
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:00
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    @anonymous I don't think the Constitution says what you think it does. The separation of church and state comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote, it's not in the Constitution and isn't law.
    – JonK
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:31
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    @anonymous Your error is "assuming the thing you wish to prove". Did you come here to ask a question?
    – user15103
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 20:21
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    Just to expand on what @JonK said, the First Amendment prohibits "mak[ing] law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". Unless you can show that making this phrase is establishing a religion, or preventing you from exercising yours, it is not unconstitutional. People have tried to show that it's "establishing religion", but per the Wikipedia page, no one has succeeded in court yet.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 21:41
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    @JonK Wouldn't it be a law that establishes a certain song as the anthem, though?
    – Bobson
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 21:49

You raise several questions.

In semi reverse order of your asking them:

  1. Is displaying "In God We Trust" on US currency unconstitutional?

No. Not according to the US Courts system, which the U.S. uses for constitutional interpretation. See, for example, Aronow v. United States, where the ruling included:

It is quite obvious 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 patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. ...It is not easy to discern any religious significance attendant the payment of a bill with coin or currency on which has been imprinted 'In God We Trust' or the study of a government publication or document bearing that slogan.

  1. Why do the courts not rule it unconstitutional

Because it does not establish a state religion, which is what the first amendment bars Congress from doing.

  1. Why is this motto written on US currency?

The motto started out on coins.

The motto first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin following collaboration between the Mint Director, the Secretary of the Treasury and Congress to place the motto on that coin. Further legislation from Congress in the 1860s and 1870s allowed the motto to be used on additional coins. And since 1938, it has appeared on all US coins.

Later, in 1955 Congress passed a law that "'In God We Trust' ... shall appear on all United States currency and coins".

So, the reason the motto is written on US currency is that Congress passed a law saying it would be.

  1. What politics are in play here?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury speculates the motto made its way onto coins in the 1860s because:

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins.

The move to add it to paper currency in the 1950s coincides with Congress establishing "In God We Trust" as the national motto, establishing an annual National Day of Prayer, and adoption of the Pledge of Allegiance which includes the phrase "One nation, under God". All of this happened at a time when the U.S. was facing off against the atheistic communism of the Soviet Union, which I suspect was the driving popular/political force -- to differentiate the United States as having a capitalistic and deistic ideology.

  1. Did the founding fathers dislike the idea of religion "in the system"

The Constitution only mentions religion in the first amendment, which bars Congress from establishing a State religion. In that regard, the Constitution is a secular document - it certainly does not establish some sort of theocracy.

At the same time though, other founding documents like the Declaration of Independence make explicit appeals to a Creator.

Furthermore, while the amended Constitution forbade establishing a Federal State Church, many individual U.S. States had State Churches during and after the founding period. Connecticut's remained until 1818.

Trying to pin down a consensus of the founders on the appropriate interplay of religion and government is messy. I think an anecdote that captures this well is that the first two US presidents, George Washington and John Adams, both proclaimed national days of prayer as President. But then our third President, Thomas Jefferson refused to do the same, replying to Rev. Samuel Miller as follows:

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from inter meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises

James Madison, the fourth president, resumes the practice. Then it basically ends until the 1950s (right around when Congress decrees "In God We Trust" should go on paper currency).

Similarly, Washington proclaimed an explicitly religious day of Thanksgiving. Then Thanksgiving fell out of practice from 1815 until the Civil War period in the 1860s, where Lincoln puts out a Thanksgiving proclamation that goes so far in regard to religious content that it includes:

They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy

(And at that same time, "In God We Trust" starts going on coins.)


There is quite a lot of history there. Essentially, it reduces to a claim that natural rights exist, and that they are cannot be abrogated by kings. See Locke's first treatise for a great example of that reasoning.

If you look back at the revolution, you'll see similar language all over the place. For example, one of the original revolutionary flags (the liberty tree) has "An appeal to heaven" along the top.

Googling around, I found this discussion of New England ministers; the philosophy described in chapter 2 is a reasonable starting point for why this was a very important point.

  • 1
    Could you explain how the existence of these "natural rights" and the absence of kings in the USA leads specifically to "In God we trust" being written on the money? In particular, it wasn't there until the 1950s so, while the use of similar language during the revolution is clearly relevant, it can't be the reason. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 19:48
  • @DavidRicherby The Treasury disagrees with you. treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx
    – fectin
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 21:28
  • OK, fine, since 1864. That was still a long time after the revolution so my actual point still stands. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 0:59
  • @DavidRicherby the founding principles of America had and continue to have profound effects on the national character. If you want to read about it, Locke is public domain, and de Tocqueville is as well.
    – fectin
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 2:45