Source: The Atlantic
By Garrett Epps; Professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore
Could the United States put “In Jesus Christ We Trust” on its coins?
Justice Antonin Scalia asked the conservative lawyer Charles Cooper that question during an oral argument on November 6, 1991, in a high-profile Church-state case called Lee v. Weisman.
“I don’t think we would put that on the coins,” Cooper replied. “But I think that is because, at this stage, that would not be politically possible …”
That answer—which startled even Scalia then and is still startling today—is in the background of American Humanist Association v. American Legion, which will be argued in the high court on February 27. Formally at stake is the fate of a 40-foot-high concrete Latin cross, designated as a memorial to the local World War I dead, which sits on public land in the midst of a busy traffic circle in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The result may help resolve disputes over local memorials around the country. Beyond that, it will tell us a lot about the new conservative Supreme Court majority’s approach to the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
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Cooper lost Lee v. Weisman in 1991, and the “Jesus on the money” answer surely didn’t help. He was representing a local school board that planned to open its graduation ceremonies with religious invocations by local clergy. The invocations were constitutional, Cooper told the Court, because students were not required to attend their graduation ceremony.