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Religious Slogan in City Hall

A lawyer in Springfield, MO is sending out letters to several cities in Missouri, asking them to prominently display the motto "In God We Trust" in city halls. He even sends along a sample resolution so the councils can vote the display in. Our mayor decided to bring the resolution before the council during our regular April meeting on Monday. We engaged in a discussion for about 15 minutes and then voted 3-1 to place a 8.5" x 11" sign with the slogan in city hall. I read the following statement and had it entered into our minutes:

Questions of religious faith are not the business of this municipal government. As Thomas Jefferson said, "the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions." I support the right of everyone to express any belief or opinion they like and the government must protect those rights. As part of that protection, the government remains neutral on questions of religious opinion.

I spoke in favor of the separation between church and state when I was a pastor and I continue to do so today as a non-believer. 35 million American citizens are non-religious and there are almost a million in Missouri. I've spoken with several people in Adrian, both religious and non-religious, who oppose the posting of this motto in city hall.

We have gotten along just fine without a motto on the wall of our council chambers. If we were going to add one, we should choose one that's more inclusive such as the original motto of the United States, "E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one)" or the motto of Missouri "Salus populi suprema lex esto (Let the good of the people be the supreme law)."

Regardless of your religious perspective, I hope you'll recognize that this entanglement between religion and government is good for neither the church nor the state. Our fourth President, James Madison, said it well, "I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

This sign will be a minor annoyance and discouragement to me when I see it. And it may serve as justification for further government endorsements of religion, just as "But it's on our money" was repeatedly presented as evidence in favor of posting the motto. But will it have any substantial effect on the business we conduct on the city council? No. I also trust that this episode won't prevent the council from continuing to work for the good of our city. I have no doubt that the aldermen who voted for this had the very best intentions. I hope that they also understand that I, too, was doing what I thought was best for the city. If you'd like to see what was said during the discussion, take a look at this transcript I prepared.

5 comments

Moral erosion, like the geological metaphorical equivalent, occurs very slowly and over a long period of time. I fear not for us, but for our children’s children.

People will wonder how, where and why our world has gotten so far off track.

The answer … sadly, will be … the myriad of decisions made by “intelligent” people, for all of the “right” reasons.


stk [Visitor] • http://randsco.com04/14/11 @ 18:16

Fascinating transcript and your prepared statement hits all the right notes.

Good move drawing attention to the religious case for the separation of church and state. I continue to be amazed that religious people so rarely make that case though it would very much be in their interest from an historical standpoint to do so, and to preserve that separation. Being in a country where we can take so many liberties for granted can make one stupid and lazy if one is not careful. And the anti-intellectualism of the modern right only increases the propensity for stupidity. You might suppose that growing up in a separatist, culturally insulated sect like the holiness movement, I might have heard someone making an argument for principalities keeping their nose out of church affairs. But I didn’t. Not until I went off to college and read Tocqueville.

So you are mayor pro tem now. What does that mean?


Seth [Visitor]  http://sethink.wordpress.com/04/25/11 @ 15:00
dan [Member] • http://www.brendoman.com/04/25/11 @ 15:17

Wow. Playwrites should attend your city council meetings for inspiration. Even the ending with the vote for you in spite of it all is just the kind of heart-warming finale that could bring the curtain down nicely. Much respect, sir.


Doug [Visitor]• 05/12/11 @ 19:16

Dan, my prayer would be that you would come to have a personal relationship with Jesus the Christ. However, that does not make me an idiot. I do not want any part of the government voting to establish anything in regard to religion. I can’t believe how blind we Christians can be. The best way to fight the support of Islam and (…….) name your religion here, is to not allow our gov’t to support any of it. The fact that these people are saying that “In God we Trust” placed on the wall has nothing to do with religion points to their lack of “trust in God". If Christians were to “wear” Christ daily in what they do and say, and how they live their lives, there would be no need for it to be written on the wall because it would “ooze” out from themselves. That is where the moral “decay” is rather than in what we will put up on the wall in city hall. I can’t believe, if they actually believe in God, that they would vote for a Pagan (you) to be their temp. Mayor. Talk about a conflict of personal statements. We believe in God and we want to make that know but were ok with this Pagan making decisions for us!!!


Automan62 [Visitor]  06/24/11 @ 22:07

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