PITTSBURGH — A county council in Pennsylvania has voted against a proposal to display the national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ at the county courthouse.
The Allegheny County Council voted 8-6 against the display on Tuesday, with all of those in opposition being Democrat. One Democrat voted in favor of the motto.
The plaque bearing the national motto was also to have borne the state motto “Virtue, Liberty and Independence,” as well as one of the currency mottos, “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning, “Out of many, one.” Councilwoman Sue Means, an evangelical Christian, had proposed the display, and Councilman Ed Kress submitted an amendment that would include the two additional mottos.
But the Madison-Wisconsin, based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) opposed the measure, and sent a letter to county council President John DeFazio in an effort to defeat the proposal.
“It is inappropriate for the County Council to adopt a proposal that would place ‘In God We Trust’ on the county’s courthouse. Statements about a god have no place in government buildings,” wrote FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Elected officials should not use their government position and government buildings as a place for promoting their personal religious views.”
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat, also vowed to veto the measure if passed, calling it “a movement by the right-wing evangelical Christians across the country basically to impose Christianity.”
“We are disrespecting other religions and beliefs by promoting one above the others,” he wrote in a letter to the panel. “[The plaque] tells our residents and visitors that if they are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Muslim, Islamic or any other non-theist group, they are not welcomed here.”
But others disagreed, and also wrote a letter to the council in support of the proposal. Liberty Counsel of Florida offered to defend the county should a lawsuit be filed. It took particular issue with the correspondence submitted by FFRF.
“The FFRF is in the business of harassing schools, county commissioners, and any official who will listen to their claims that public expressions of faith are unconstitutional, including the national motto,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, wrote in a press release surrounding the matter.
“In the letter from FFRF to the council, Ms. Gaylor deceitfully said that displaying the motto was unconstitutional. Ms. Gaylor lost a similar national motto case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case bearing her own name, Gaylor v. United States,” he said.
Pennsylvania Representative Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth Township) also backed the measure as he has made similar proposals on a statewide level.
“You should tell the county executive he should get educated on the national motto,” he told the Pittsburgh Tribune. “It’s their ignorance that causes them to fear having God in a government place. They shouldn’t fear the name of God or the word ‘God’ in our government.”
But a divided county council ultimately voted against posting the national motto. Republicans Sue Means of Bethel Park, Heather Heidelbaugh of Mt. Lebanon, Tom Baker of Ross, Ed Kress of Shaler and Jan Rea of McCandless, all supported the proposal, with Democrat Bill Robinson of Pittsburgh joining them. All of those who voted against the measure were Democrat.
Pennsylvania Gov. James Pollock (1855 to 1858), who was also the leader of the U.S. Mint, is stated to have proposed the phrase “In God We Trust” for American currency under the direction and bidding of the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.
“We claim to be a Christian nation; why should we not vindicate our character by honoring the God of Nations?” he once stated. “Our national coinage should do this. Its legends and devices should declare our trust in God—in Him who is ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords.’”
The first coin bearing the motto was produced in 1864.