Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: In Dollar Bills We Trust

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel, 

I received a $20 bill with "God" crossed out where it says "In God We Trust" on the back. I didn't even notice this (who looks closely at their money?), but a store clerk at the supermarket did. I guess they look for counterfeit bills. Anyway, the clerk said that she couldn't accept this $20. I asked why and she said that crossing off God's name was an affront to God. 

I didn't want to get into an argument, and as an atheist I disagree. As far as I know, crossing off God doesn't invalidate the money, either. I reached into my wallet and fished out another $20, though.

My question is: should I have stood my ground on principle? Should I have said something like, "This is perfectly fine and legal money, even with 'God' crossed out. Religion and commerce don't mix, so please just accept this legal tender and let's move on?" Or was it right thing to do to respect her view, even though I disagree, and give her a new $20?

Confused Customer

Dear Confused Customer,

In the precise situation you outlined in your letter, I think you did the right thing. It's not even about respecting her view, because you can respect her belief in God while still scoffing at the bizarre and arbitrary way she tried to impose it on you. It's more about avoiding needless conflict and moving on with your day. This clerk was being unreasonable, but you had another $20 bill handy so why push it? Perhaps a snarky retort might be in order, but your time is better spent elsewhere.

The story would be very different if all you had was that $20 bill in your wallet, though. In that case, you might need to push back to ensure you could buy your necessary items. You're right that the scribble on the bill doesn't invalidate it in any way, so getting a manager involved might have been your next step.

A good friend of mine explained it this way: let's say there's a car double-parked on a narrow street. Very annoying -- no question about that. But if you can, you'd squeeze by it with a honk and go on your merry way. It's only if the car prevents you from getting where you need to go that you need to enter into a conflict. In your situation, you were able to make it down the street without getting out of your car. So drive away and don't look back.

My question for you, Confused Customer, is what kind of principle you wish you had stood on when you look back on the incident. You wouldn't be asking me for advice if the interaction didn't really ruffle your feathers. And this is what I think it is: you are irritated (rightfully so) that this woman imposed her belief system system, which you expressly disavow, on you, so you wanted to make her feel a little dumb. Or maybe you wanted her to consider a new perspective. But let's face it -- you're never going to get this woman to become an atheist, even with the most well-reasoned of arguments. There's a reason why you're not supposed to talk about religion at the dinner table. Take comfort that this clerk's strange attitude towards customer service will catch up with her and let this go.

You've got to pick your fights, Confused Customer. Being right is a necessary component to justify standing your ground, but you need more than that. There's got to be something worth winning.

All my best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via

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