Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

To phrase a coin, ‘God’s’ place has some on edge

Citizen Staff Writer

Anne T. Denogean

Citizen Columnist

Let the next battle in the culture war begin – this one, over the almighty dollar.

In mid-February, the U.S. Mint launched the new presidential $1 coins. The first featured, not surprisingly, our first president.

But faster than you could say George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, the conservative blogosphere, sites with names like Right Truth and Patriots and Liberty, was buzzing with talk of a boycott.

At issue is the placement of the words “In God We Trust,” on the edge of the coin, rather than the face.

To blame, of course, were those “militant atheists,” who were clearly at it again, with their ceaseless attempts to marginalize God in American society.

Offended Americans should refuse the dollar and flood elected officials with e-mails and phone calls demanding the motto be restored to a place of prominence on future dollar coins.

Anne Vernon, a southern Arizona senior, will be part of the boycott.

“I’ll say, ‘I don’t want it. Give me a dollar bill.’ Several people at my church are doing the same thing,” said Vernon, a member of the Holy Family Parish of Fort Huachuca.

“Somebody, somewhere along the line said, ‘We’re not putting this on the coin anymore,’ ” she said.

But I wanted to be clear because there’s another news story out about a minting error that resulted in 50,000 (out of 300 million) of the Washington dollars being struck without the motto.

You realize, I asked Vernon, the dollars as correctly struck do have the motto on the edge.

“That’s not the place it belongs. That’s hiding,” she said.

Before talking to Vernon, I was going to go out on a limb and just say God doesn’t care if or where his name appears on our money. Instead, moved by her sincerity, I called a few religious leaders for their thoughts.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El, laughed at the bloggers’ description of the dollars as “godless.”

“Far from a primary concern of anybody who is serious about religion is whether the government puts God in a prominent or less prominent position on its coins,” he said.

“In fact, America is not only in theory, but in law, not a religious organization. That the coinage has reflected our existence under God is respectful and, to my mind, reasonably appropriate. But if we have to depend upon our coins to prove our faith, then surely we are doing something wrong.”

What bothers me about the fuss are two columns widely circulated on the Web.

The writer, Tony Phyrillas, an award-winning newspaperman with 25 years’ experience, is featured on at least two-dozen political Web sites. His Feb. 28 and March 8 reports suggest, only half-jokingly and without any evidence, that the alternative placement of the motto was a result of collusion between the mint, the American Civil Liberties Union and “militant atheists.”

This is exactly how culture wars and conspiracy theories get started.

Anyone wondering why the coin looks as it does could have called the mint and asked a few questions.

The edge lettering, said Michael White, U.S.Mint spokesman, is a feature that was expected to appeal to coin collectors.

It’s a throwback design that appeared on unusual American coins of the 1800s and early 1900s. The last coin with edge inscriptions was the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle $20 gold coin, minted from 1907 to 1933.

It’s considered one of the finest gold coins ever struck.

The intent, he added, was not to minimize the impact of the inscriptions. Instead, “it was to draw attention to the inscriptions by placing them in a unique place like that.”

Oh, sure. Then why is the print so small?

It’s actually bigger than the “In God We Trust” on the face of Sacagawea Golden Dollar, White said.

Also, moving the words to the edge allows for larger, more dramatic portraits of the presidents, he said.

But, still, how can the public be sure the mint didn’t collude with the ACLU on this?

The U.S. Mint does everything by congressional authorization, he said. The design of the dollar was dictated by the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005.

Which was clearly put together by some left-wing looney, crazy-as-a-bat atheist.

Actually . . .

The Coin Act was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware – a Republican and Catholic who has supported federal funding of faith-based initiatives and sponsored legislation requiring schools to allow voluntary prayer.

Sorry, folks. There’s no anti-God conspiracy or scandal here.

If, however, these “godless dollars” reek of sulfur to you, that’s OK.

Just send ‘em on over. I’ll consider it my Christian duty to take them off your hands.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her column runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

• Past Anne T. Denogean columns at www.tucsoncitizen.com

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