Reading Time: 2 minutes

A few years ago, the issue of religious slogans and displays in government buildings escalated into a national debate, pitting evangelical Christian believers against Church/State separation advocacy organizations like Americans United and the ACLU. That was when the now-infamous Roy Moore installed a Ten Commandments display in the central rotunda of the state judicial building in Alabama.  A federal lawsuit followed, which he lost. And then, he refused to remove it when ordered to do so. He became a national hero, of course, to all the Bible thumpers, and several copycat displays were put up in other venues around the nation. Some were allowed to remain, with the rationalization that the display was not “prominent,” and was shared with other displays. A weak argument, in my view. The Constitution is pretty clear about prohibiting the government from recognizing not just a religion, but religion in general. But that is a debate that will go on as long as Christianity exists. The self righteous never give up.

A local city near where I live decided to enter the fray. Their city council was planning to put up a banner in the council chambers proclaiming…what else?…”In God We Trust.”

Even though I do not live in that city, I decided to stick an oar in the water. I wrote a letter to the President of their city council. I prefaced it by acknowledging that I was not a resident of that city, but wanted to send them my comments. Needless to say, I received no response. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Mr. (name deleted),

Let me begin by acknowledging that I am not a Villa Park resident, although I live in Orange, only a block from the VP boundary.  Nevertheless, I would like to add my comments to an issue that is now before your city council.

I have read that your council is planning to put up a religious slogan in the council chambers.  Why on earth would you want to do that?  The slogan, “In God We Trust,” is clearly intended to refer to the Christian god, although the proponents of this will probably deny it, claiming that it refers to the gods of all religions.  In fact, other religions refer to their god(s) by different names and some have multiple gods.  If your intention is to be inclusive, the slogan should be “In Gods We Trust.”  And what about nonbelievers?  Are there no nonbelievers in Villa Park?  Aren’t they legitimate citizens of your city?  The slogan will make them uncomfortable when they visit your council chambers.

But let’s get back to the question of why it is deemed necessary to decorate your chamber with pious slogans.  Do your council members require continuous visual proof of their piety?

Jesus said, in his Sermon on the Mount:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

More importantly, the display of this slogan will contribute nothing to the deliberations of the council, and it will certainly make non-Christians who attend your council meetings feel like unwelcome outsiders.  I would think any government agency should try to avoid that.

Best regards,

 

Bert Bigelow

 

Bert Bigelow graduated from the University of Michigan engineering school, and then pursued a career in software design.  He has always enjoyed writing, and since retirement, has produced short essays on many subjects.  His main interests are in the areas of politics and religion, and the intersection of the two.  Many of his writings are posted on his web site, bigelowbert.com.  You can contact him at bigelowbert@aol.com.