Monday, October 17, 2011

Godless SBA Dollars?

While much has been made in the press and in blogs about "Godless" Presidential dollars, this isn't the first time that dollar coins have been caught up in a godless controversy.

In 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollars were issued to replace the much larger Dwight Eisenhower dollars. Once again a controversy would erupt over the motto "In God We Trust," only this time the issue was in reverse.

Susan B. Anthony was a leader of the women’s suffragist movement and an equal rights advocate. In 1878 she helped draft the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allowed women the right to vote, although it took another 40 years before enough of the states ratified it.

In 1972 Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). However as a 1979 deadline approached, the ERA still needed to be ratified by at least 38 states to be added to the Constitution. As the deadline approached, it seemed only fitting that the new dollar coin should depict a well known equal rights advocate.

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But no sooner had the coin been issued than a controversy erupted over the motto "In God We Trust."

While Susan B. Anthony is still well known for her support of women's rights, what isn't so well known is that she is believed to be an atheist and atheist groups soon took up the cause to remove the motto.

(Ironically, it was President Eisenhower, who was being replaced on the dollar coin, who signed the bill into law that created "In God We Trust" as the National Motto.)

While she never called herself an atheist, her personal diaries and letters do reveal her to be at a minimum agnostic.

In one letter to her sister about another sister Hannah's death ("The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony," by Ida Harper 1898, p.516), she reveals a final conversation with her dying sister in which she states, "I could not dash her faith with my doubts, nor could I pretend a faith I had not, so I was silent in the dread presence of death."

A female admirer of Susan B. Anthony and head of an atheist group petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to have the motto removed from the coin. Had she succeeded, we would be collecting SBA dollars today by two types, one of which would certainly be referred to as "Godless."


At 8:30 AM, Blogger Crazy Penny Guy said...

There actually have been some "godless" Canadian coins, by accident earlier but deliberately now:

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous AC Dwyer said...

Thanks for pointing out the Canadian "godless" dollars. I wasn't aware there were any.

For those unfamiliar with latin, "D.G. REGINA" is short for DEI GRATIA REGINA which translates as "By the Grace of God, Quaen."

Earlier coins had 'D.G. REX IMPERATOR" which meant "By the Grace of God, King and Emperor."

Thanks for sharing this.

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be worth noting that the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the U.S. motto concluded that said motto does not refer to what most people understand as God. The court made it clear that the motto does not profess or recognize religion but rather that is simply a set of words that we use to bind us together as Americans. In this light, all U.S. coinage is and always will be godless in the religious sense. Under the court ruling, the fact that we have a motto is what is significant and the words in the motto are without meaning, either taken individually or as a phrase. In effect, both parties that argued before the court won their battles, with the court deciding that the motto could stand as written but that it has no connection with the notion that deities exist.


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