Center for Three-Dimensional Literature - Logo



Center for Three-Dimensional Literature - Title logo


David colosi - in god we trust




This work was inspired by an act of protest by Sarah FoldEconomy, a character in my novel MISS PUMPERNICKEL BREAD. Since completing this novel in 1997, I have carried on Sarah's protest by crossing out the phrase "In God We Trust" on banknotes that pass through my hands. (I make no claims that Sarah and I were the first to do this).


In God We Trusted $1.00

The First Amendment of the US Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…". Judges have ruled against the removal of the phrase "IN GOD WE TRUST" on grounds that "Its use is of a patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." (ARONOW v. UNITED STATES, 432 F.2d 242 (1970)) In 1979, this ruling was upheld in MADALYN MURRAY O'HAIR et al. v. W. MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY, et al. (462 F. Supp. 19 -- W.D. Tex 1978) by the following opinion:

"From [Aronow v. United States] it is easy to deduce that the Court concluded that the primary purpose of the slogan was secular; it served as secular ceremonial purpose in the obviously secular function of providing a medium of exchange. As such it is equally clear that the use of the motto on the currency or otherwise does not have a primary effect of advancing religion."

In 1861 Reverend M.R. Watkinson first introduced the idea that the motto be inscribed on coinage to Secretary of the Treasury Samuel P. Chase:

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins. You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation?

Seven days after receiving Watkinson's letter, Secretary Chase requested that James Pollock, Director of the Mint in Philadelphia, prepare a motto reflecting the following concern: "No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins..."

Although the motto appeared on some coinage after 1864, its official inscription came by way of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 in direct response to Cold War tensions mounting between the Judeo-Christian US and the so-deemed "godless" Soviet communists.

In God We Trusted $5.00

The entire history of the evolution of this phrase as it appears on currency points only to a "true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." Religion was the sole motivating factor for its inclusion. Only a true leap of faith could sever the word /God/ from the definition of the word /religion/. And only in this way can patriotism, in the name of God, be charaterized as a non-religious enterprise. The extended question is, why weren't (and aren't) American believers up in arms over this judicial severance of God from its name? (Silence, in this case, is the believer's best offense.) Can /God/ be a false resemblance of God? Does /God/ have a meaning outside of religion? I can think of one, in Literature: that God is a fictional and mythological character. But would or does the Supreme Court support this position?

Questions worth asking: What does /God/ mean? Who is the speaker of this sentence? Who is the addressee? How are we to read this bumper sticker?

In God We Trusted $10.00

The promise represented by this promisory note was, up until 1973, one of gold overseeing the exchange of paper money for goods or services. 'In Gold We Trust' might have been a more appropriate motto before that time, a time when removal of our trust in gold would most certainly have broken the promise and created a spike in our economy. Today, this promisory note has no tie to an anterior specie. We can no longer exchange one dollar on request to the Treasury for 1/35th of an ounce of gold. We can only exchange it for goods or services equal to the face value written on it, and this exchange value now fluctuates day to day. The fluctuation of the stock market, the buying and selling of pasts and futures (what it was worth yesterday and what it should be worth tomorrow), sets the terms of the promise. With our coins and banknotes untethered from gold - flying on a wing and, yes, a prayer - we now see the religious, and only, purpose of this phrase: it is a prayer of trust to God to oversee the exchange between the buyer and seller and as a prayer of trust to God to oversee the stability of the stock market. In the absence of any other meaning - besides those expressed by Rev. Watkinson and Secretary Chase - the phrase can only be interpreted as a prayer to a diety. This is anything but secular, and is therefore exactly a governmental sponsorship of religion which has the primary effect of advancing religion.

But has the prayer worked? Has the presence of God's name on these bills stopped pickpockets, petty thieves, bank robbers, or corporate and government embezzlers from breaking the law? Would the removal of this phrase create a spike in crime?

In God We Trusted $20.00

Although Article 331 and Article 333, Title 18 of the U.S. Code prohibit the alteration and defacement of currency, they do so only in the case where it is fraudulently intended or motivated or to the extent that the coin or bill is intentionally made "unfit to be reissued". The social protest and artistic use of banknotes proposed here neither intends fraud nor acualizes an alteration of face value or use. This act is comparable to that taken by more popular enterprises like which stamps bills with a web address. And many religious individuals can't help but to evangelize by writing a prayer on a banknote because they know it will be both passed on and never destroyed.

In God We Trusted detail

The use of currency as a vehicle of expression or as an art material is not uncommon to artists. Marcel Duchamp, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Ed Kienholz, Akasegawa Genpei, Cildo Meireles, and Mark Wagner, among others, have used currency as an art material and as an ideological circuit. My project bears the most resemblance to Meireles' Insertions Into Ideological Circuits. For one insertion he stamped the message: "Quem Matou Herzog?" (Who Killed Herzog?) on Brazilian banknotes. Meireles knew that the alteration in the currency would be noticed and that the note would be neither held onto nor destroyed. In this way, he could "post" a message questioning the suspicious death of Wladimir Herzog: while it was widely known that Herzog had been tortured, his death was officially announced as a suicide. But in contrast to Meireles' insertion, in which the bill was used as mere note paper on which to write an unrelated message, my insertion is reflexive. My alteration of the familiar and therefore often overlooked text on the promisory note edits the very document that it is critical of.



Back to Top