An e-mail being circulated by Christians who may not quite understand the current thinking on church-state issues clearly goes as follows:


>>You may have heard in the news that a couple of Post Offices in Texas have been forced to take down small posters that say "IN GOD WE TRUST." They claim that the law is being violated; something silly involving "electioneering posters.">>


No -- the law that is being violated is the 1st amendment to the constitution. The P.O. is a government building, and the government is enjoined by our constitution from favoring one religion over another. Some religions have a personal God; others (Buddhism, for instance) do not. The poster, whether “small” or large, clearly favors a god-religion over one like Buddhism (there are others) and is, therefore, not in compliance with the Constitution.


Whether the talk show host's idea is "bad" or not depends on how much time one has to do something that will have zero effect on anyone else. His suggestion is not illegal but I suggest that he has reached the bottom of stupid and started to dig. The e-mail’s use of the “persuasive adjectives” “small,” and “silly,” is one clue to evaluating it as junk mail.


Not persuaded? Suppose your local Post Office, or Driver’s License Bureau, put up posters that said “In Allah We Trust.” Or – “In the Great Spirit We Trust.” Or – “God is dead. And That’s a Scientific Fact.”


If “In God We Trust” is allowable, on what basis can the others be prohibited?


For a good overview of how SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the United States) has defined religious liberty cases over the years, see the web site

Thanks to Elizabeth Bailey for seeing a broken link here and suggesting this substitution.

See, in particular, the following:

Public School cases

Minersville v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940) – By an 8-1 vote, a public school may require students to salute the flag and pledge allegiance even if it violates their religious scruples. Billy Gobitas’s (not a misspelling – the court got it wrong) letter, asking for relief on religious grounds, written as an 8 year old, is a classic document. Several of the justices quickly came to see they had ruled incorrectly, and three years later the next case was decided. More on the case here. (Including a photo of Billy’s letter).

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, (1943) - SCOTUS overturned Gobitis on a 6-3 vote.

McCollum v. Board of Education, (1948) – Religious instruction in public schools is unconstitutional.

Zorach v. Clausen, (1952) – Released time from public school classes for religious instruction is OK.

Engel v. Vitale, (1962) - School prayer ruled unconstitutional.

Murray v. Curlett, (1963) - Forcing a child to participate in Bible reading and prayer is unconstitutional.

Stone v. Graham, (1980) -Posting the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional.

Wallace v. Jaffree, (1985) - Enforcing a moment of silence in schools is unconstitutional.

Board of Education v. Mergens, (1990) - Public schools cannot deny equal access to student groups based upon religious, political, philosophical, or other content.

Lee v. Weisman, (1992) - Prayer at public school graduation ceremonies is unconstitutional.

Lamb's Chapel et al. v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, (1993) - School districts cannot deny churches access to school premises after-hours, if the district allows the use of its building to other groups.

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, (2000) - Student-led prayers at public school football games are unconstitutional.

Good News Club v. Milford Central School, (2001) – A school cannot keep a religious club from using its facilities because the school had created a limited public forum.

Religion in colleges/universities

Widmar v. Vincent (1981) - A state university cannot refuse to grant a student religious group equal access.

Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, (1995) - Student activity funds can be used to fund a religious student magazine.

Religious school cases

Pierce v. Society of Sisters, (1925) – An Oregon law requiring all children 8 to 16 years old to attend public schools (thus preventing them from attending private or home schools) was struck down.

Board of Education v. Allen, (1968) - The state may lend textbooks to private and religious schools.

Tilton v. Richardson, (1971) - Federal funding to private, religious, and public colleges to build classrooms is constitutional.

Committee v. Nyquist, (1973) - States cannot reimburse parents for religious school tuition..

Roemer v. Board of Public Works, (1976) - States can provide grants to private and religious colleges.

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, (2002) –Ohio's voucher program, which gives tax dollars to parents to send their children to religious or non-religious schools, was upheld in a 5-4 vote.

Public Witnessing

Jones v. Opelika, (1942) - Court upheld an ordinance requiring a fee for a license to sell books. Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to sell religious literature in a town in  Alabama; they’d have to pay the fee.

Murdock v. Pennsylvania, (1943) - Court overruled Jones v. Opelika

Marsh v. Alabama, (1946) – People may distribute religious literature on the streets of a company town.

Krishna v. Lee, (1992) - Airport managers can prohibit solicitation of money, but must allow the free distribution of religious literature.

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York v. Village of Stratton, (2002) – A door-to-door ordinance was ruled an unconstitutional burden on religious expression.


Reynolds v. United States, (1878) - Polygamy outlawed.

Wisconsin v. Yoder, (1972) - Amish do not have to obey a state law requiring children to attend school until age 16.

Employment Division v. Smith, (1990) - The Free Exercise Clause cannot exempt one from drug laws.

Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, (1993) - Hialeah, Florida ordinances, prohibiting members of the Santeria religion from sacrificing animals in their rituals are unconstitutional.