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SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE:

RELIGIOUS PHRASES IN STATE MOTTOS

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Sponsored link.

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Use of religious symbols and phrases by states:

bullet2000-APR: Ohio: The state accepted the suggestion of a Cincinnati boy in 1959 that the state adopt a portion of a Christian gospel (Matthew 19:26) as its state motto. The quotation records Jesus' answer to a question about salvation: "With God All Things Are Possible."  A Presbyterian minister, Reverend Matthew Peterson, launched a lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation in 1997. They lost the case in 1998-SEP, but won on appeal. 

According to AANEWS, "A three judge panel of the U.S.  6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the 41-year-old slogan violated the separation of church and state, and was a government endorsement of the Christian religion." Judge Avern Cohn wrote in the majority opinion: "In the context in which the words of the motto are found -- as the words of Jesus speaking of salvation -- to a reasonable observer, they must be seen as advancing, or at a minimum, showing a particular affinity for Christianity...Simply put, they are an endorsement of the Christian religion by the State of Ohio.  No other interpretation in the context of their presence in the New Testament is possible.  No amount of semantic legerdemain can hide the fact that the official motto of the State of Ohio repeats word-for-word, Jesus' answer to his disciples' questions about the ability to enter heaven, and thereby achieve salvation..."

Christine Link, Executive Director of the Ohio ACLU, commented: "We are delighted with the ruling, which once again affirms the bedrock principal that the state cannot and should not choose between competing religious doctrines.

Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director for ACLU of Ohio stated: "Remarkably, advocates of the state motto attempted to drain the passage of its theological significance in their effort to avoid the First Amendment implications of its meaning. It is just another example of how state sponsorship ultimately does no favors to religion."

According to an ACLU statement: "The opinion considers the state motto at great length, and concludes that it cannot be considered a neutral statement of deism, like the familiar "In God We Trust" because it cannot properly be understood other than in its biblical context. In that light, the Court held, the motto is far from neutral: rather, it is an expression of a particularly Christian approach to salvation, divine intervention in human affairs, and the ability of individuals to affect their own ultimate destiny." 6
bullet2000-APR: State mottos: Monty Gaither, Arizona State Director for American Atheists and Susan Sackett, president of The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix have called for their state to replace the present motto: "Ditat Deus" (God Enriches.) Other states with religious mottos are:
bulletSouth Dakota's: "Under God, The People Rule," and
bulletFlorida's: "In God We Trust" -- the same as the National Motto.
bullet2000-MAY: Kansas: Treasurer Rita Cline of Shawnee County, KS, hung a 11 x 14 inch poster in her office at the courthouse. It contains the motto "In God We Trust." Mary Lou Schmidt of Topeka asked that it be removed. Ms. Cline replied in a letter, saying: "I understood you to say you are a pagan, do not believe in God, and refuse to recognize or honor the American flag and our national motto, all while claiming to be an American citizen. Your statements surprised me and caused me to question your patriotism and wonder just how much of an American you really are." Ms. Schmidt is apparently an Neopagan, and believes in the existence of a God and Goddess -- but not the Christian God.

Kurtenbach of the American Civil Liberties Union commented on Cline's letter: "I was outraged by it. She has no business as a public official passing judgment on others' religious beliefs...I hope Miss Cline uses good judgment, and that would be to remove the sign...Act like a public official and not a religious crusader."

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Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Ohio appeals court strikes down Christian state motto as unconstitutional," American Civil Liberties Union news release, 2000-APR-25.

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Copyright © 1998 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original publishing date: 1998-AUG-5
Latest update: 2005-DEC-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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