Striking The Motto:
Is It Defacing U.S. Currency?
Bobbi Needham

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bobbi Needham"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 11:25 AM

I've heard it is illegal to deface coins, but not to mark currency (police do it all the time, and the treasury issued special pens designed to determine if the newfangled bills are fake). Of course, it would be illegal to make a $10 bill look like a $100 bill, and it might be illegal to truly deface a bill (beyond recognition). I strike the "GOD" part (and sometimes the "WE") part and then leave a little message such as "Religion OFF Our Money!" or simply "Religion OFF!"

In any event, I'd like to see our right to speak out against the actions of our country pitted against the treasury's right to have marking-free bills.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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SECRET SERVICE THREATENS COUPLE
FOR STAMPING ONE DOLLAR BILLS

09/11/95

WOODSTOCK, New York -- A couple who habitually brand their one dollar bills with a marijuana leaf and the quote: "I grew hemp," were recently contacted by Woodstock police acting on behalf of the Secret Service. Joy Beckerman and James Horn, owners of the Heaven On Earth Hemp Store, report that the police came to them with Xerox copies of stamped dollar bills and a written warning from the secret service specifying that the practice of defacing United States currency was a federal crime. Although Horn admits that the local officers were laid back about the whole issue, he claims that the notice stated that the U.S. Attorney General would be contacted and charges would be pressed if the couple didn't immediately stop the stamping.

While Horn fully admits to stamping many of his dollar bills with the pro-hemp message, he is alarmed that the federal government seems to be targeting him alone. Since Heaven On Earth sells the "I grew hemp" stampers, the couple argues that the government has no way of proving that the bills in question were defaced by them.

Horn says that he will continue to both sell stampers and stamp some of his one dollar bills despite the warning. The couple see their action as a way of informing the community of hemp's industrial uses and its historical background as an integral American crop.

For more information, please contact either Joy Beckerman or James Horn of Heaven On Earth @ (914) 679-4990.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org> To: "Bobbi Needham"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 5:30 AM

I'd like to see the law.

Even if there is a law, I'd like to see it pitted against an atheist's First Amendment right to speak out against government irresponsibility and against what many Americans see as an illegal act (promoting religion).

This sounds fishy, considering that the Secret Service is deputized to protect the First Family. I didn't know their authority extended beyond that.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined not more than $100 or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

Defacement of currency in such a way that it is made unfit for circulation comes under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service. Their address is: United States Secret Service, 1800 G Street, N. W., Washington, DC 20223.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bobbi Needham"
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency, "In God We Trust"
Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 3:49 PM

This act directly pits their right to enforce defacing laws against the separationists' and anti-prohibitionists' First Amendment right to free speech. I would gladly risk the six months just to be a test case that pits my First Amendment right to criticize my country against a two-bit law protecting the physical integrity of our currency.

Thus, my intent is to protest and draw awareness to my country's use of a religious slogan on the money. I do this by crossing out the word "GOD" with a ball pen so that people who later possess the bill can tell what I have done.Blotting it out caused so many people to ask me, "What used to be there?" so the educational (speech) value is enhanced if I simply cross out the word and write a brief slogan of protest underneath. If I cross out the word "GOD" and write "Religion OFF!" or "Religion OFF our money!" underneath, I maximize the chance that others will think about this and become aware of the situation. This is why I do this rather than using the "ATHEIST MONEY" stamp or blotting out the entire phrase completely: I am trying to communicate to my fellow-citizens as well as to my government (the Treasury).

I don't think we'd have to do the time. I don't think we'd even be charged, much less convicted. However, if I became a test case and lost, they would slap me with the full amount as a symbolic gesture. As the loser of a celebrated case, supporters of my cause would take care of my personal affairs for me while I did the time; as a citizen with a spotless record dating back to the 1980s, I would do some token time in a "farm" or other country-club-like minimum security institution.
 

However, when I used the "ATHEIST MONEY" stamp, bills often wouldn't work in such machines as the stamp machines in the Post Office. We found this out the hard way after laboriously stamping, folding, and labeling over 100 magazines, grabbing several $20s, stamping out the offensive slogan on each of them, and going down to the all night Post Office to buy some stamps. Good thing there are lots of "coke machines" (automatic teller machines) around, and that we had some money left in the account! However, I haven't notice this to be the case as much when I simply write on the bill with single strokes of a ball pen. So, if the blot is too big, someone could try to make the case that we are rendering the bill unfit for use -- considering that "use" now includes machines. By the way, stamped bills seem to work fine in Oregon Lottery machines, which may be a comment on government priorities!

We must keep in mind that activists who advocate breaking a law could get into more serious trouble than breaking the law itself. When I worked at KBOO-FM in Portland, we were constantly urged to use language such as "I am going to break such and so law" or "This group of activists are going to break this or that law" rather than "Go out and join the activists in breaking the law." This is why I have yet to market the "Religion OFF" stamps that I would like to sell. PAM may be broke, but we're not that broke!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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