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Mayle v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 31, 2018

Kenneth Mayle, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
United States of America, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted May 11, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 17 C 3417 - Amy J. St. Eve, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Manion and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Kenneth Mayle, an adherent of what he calls non-theistic Satanism, sued the United States and officials from the United States Mint, Department of the Treasury, and Bureau of Engraving and Printing, to enjoin the printing of the national moto, "In God We Trust, " on United States currency. The district court dismissed his complaint, and we affirm.

         Mayle asserts that the motto amounts to a government endorsement of a "monotheistic concept of God." Because Satanists practice a religion that rejects monotheism, they regard the motto as "an attack on their very right to exist." Possessing and using currency, Mayle complains, forces him (and his fellow Satanists) to affirm and spread a religious message "committed to the very opposite ideals that he espouses." In addition, Mayle characterizes the printing of the motto as a form of discrimination against adherents to minority religions because it favors practitioners of monotheistic religions. All this, Mayle asserts, demonstrates that the defendants are violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Fifth Amendment's Equal Protection clause, and the First Amendment's Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Establishment clauses.

         In granting the defendants' motion to dismiss, the district court, citing Newdow v. Lefevre, 598 F.3d 638, 645-46 (9th Cir. 2010), held that it is well-settled that the motto on currency does not violate RFRA or the Free Exercise or Free Speech Clauses, because the motto has no theological import. It dismissed Mayle's equal-protection claim because the currency's appearance affects all citizens equally. The court did not resolve Mayle's properly preserved Establishment Clause claim, however, and so we begin our de novo review there.

         Mayle claims that the motto establishes religion (in the constitutional sense) because it is inherently Christian, or at least monotheistic, and it sends a message to nonadherents that they are "outsiders." In order to move forward, he must indicate in which way the government has transgressed the Constitution: through impermissible endorsement of a religious view, through coercion, or through a forbidden religious purpose. Freedom From Religion Found., Inc. v. Concord Cmty. Sch., 885 F.3d 1038, 1045 (7th Cir. 2018).

         The reason all of these "tests" or approaches have developed is that the Establishment Clause does not mandate the eradication of all religious symbols in the public sphere. Salazar v. Buono, 559 U.S. 700, 718 (2010). Because it does not sweep that far, we know that before we can find that something runs afoul of the Establishment Clause, we must do more than spot a single religious component of a challenged activity, no matter how inconsequential. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 680 (1984). To avoid that error of over-inclusion, we instead scrutinize challenged conduct "to determine whether, in reality, it establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so." Id. at 678. We "look at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the challenged conduct from the perspective of a reasonable observer" who is aware of the practice's history and context. Freedom From Religion Found., Inc., 885 F.3d at 1045.

         Under the "endorsement" approach, that inquiry is designed to show whether the government is pushing for the adoption of a particular religion (or for religion over atheism, humanism, animism, or other alternative world views). The Supreme Court has observed that the motto "In God We Trust" does no such thing. The motto merely acknowledges a part of our nation's heritage (albeit a religious part). Lynch, 465 U.S. at 676. The Court has dismissed the notion that this symbol "pose[s] a real danger of establishment of a state church [as] far-fetched indeed." Id. at 676, 686.

         Following this guidance, we have twice suggested that the motto, and specifically the motto on money, does not violate the Establishment Clause. In Sherman v. Community Consolidated School District 21 of Wheeling Township, we said that the original religious significance of "In God We Trust" has dissipated and the motto is now secular. 980 F.2d 437, 446-48 (7th Cir. 1992). And in American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. City of St. Charles, we said that "the establishment clause is not so strictly interpreted as to forbid conventional nonsectarian public invocations of the deity, a standard example being the slogan on U.S. currency and coins: 'In God We Trust.'" 794 F.2d 265, 271 (7th Cir. 1986).

         The inclusion of the motto on currency is similar to other ways in which secular symbols give a nod to the nation's religious heritage. Examples include the phrase "one nation under God, " which has been in the Pledge of Allegiance since 1954, see Pub. L. No. 83-396, ch. 297, 68 Stat. 249 (1954), as well as the National Day of Prayer, which has existed in various forms since the dawn of the country and is now codified at 36 U.S.C. § 119. Lynch, 465 U.S. at 676-77. Moreover, when the religious aspects of an activity account for "only a fraction, " the possibility that anyone could see it as an endorsement of religion is diluted. Freedom From Religion Found., Inc., 885 F.3d at 1047. 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. In this context, a reasonable observer would not perceive the motto on currency as a religious endorsement.

         Mayle's Establishment Clause claim fares no better under either of the other two approaches-coercion and purpose- the Supreme Court takes in this area. Under the former, we look to see whether the government has coerced the plaintiff to support or participate in religion. Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway, 134 S.Ct. 1811, 1825 (2014); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 587 (1992); Freedom From Religion Found., Inc., 885 F.3d at 1048. Mayle maintains that he has been coerced into participating in Christianity because credit and debit cards are too risky and he is thus compelled by default to conduct all of his economic transactions using money with a religious message. We grant that using currency is essentially obligatory for someone such as Mayle, who eschews electronic forms of payment. See Lee, 505 U.S. at 589. But no one walking down the street who saw Mayle would have the faintest idea what Mayle had in his pocket-currency or plastic payment cards or perhaps just a smart phone. The government has thus not coerced Mayle into advertising, supporting, or participating in religion; it has merely included on its currency the religious heritage of the country along with other traditions. See Lynch, 465 U.S. at 676, 686. And if, as the Supreme Court has held, public or legislative prayer does not force religious practice on an audience, see, e.g., Town of Greece, 134 S.Ct. at 1824-28, it is difficult to see how the unobtrusive appearance of the national motto on the coinage and paper money could amount to coerced participation in a religious practice.

         Last, we have the "purpose" test, under which we ask whether the motto was placed on the currency for a religious purpose, or, put differently, whether its inclusion "lacks a secular objective." Freedom From Religion Found., Inc., 885 F.3d at 1049; see Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971). Mayle contends that because the Department of the Treasury admits that religious sentiment was the driving force behind the decision permanently to affix the motto to currency in 1955, its attempt now to separate secular "religious heritage" from "religious practice" is illusory. But his premise is too simplistic. 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. Moreover, even if the motto was added to currency in part because of religious sentiment, it was also done to ...


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