By Charles James
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or free exercise thereof…” The separation between church and state in the U.S. Constitution has proven a complex and contentious subject.
On Monday night, Jan. 26, four of five councilmembers voted to approve a “Motion for Resolution” to have the national motto, “In God We Trust,” displayed above the Bishop City Seal in the council chambers.
There was overwhelming support from those in the audience, comprised of mostly local clergy and church members− many were fellow churchgoers of the councilmembers voting “Yes.”
But not every council member was on board with voting “Yes.” Councilwoman Karen Schwartz voted “No,” telling fellow councilmembers, “I think we have a responsibility to all our resident to make our town seem inclusive and it (In God We Trust) seems like something that would exclude or divide the community rather than bring the community together.”
Only one speaker spoke against the idea during public comment. Former City Councilman Keith Glidewell reminded the Council it had turned down a similar proposal a year ago, saying, “This is a publically, taxpayer-funded public forum where people of all faiths and non-faiths, nationalities, and ages come together to participate in public business.”
He went on to say “Your support alienates those of us that do not believe in a God. We feel different and apart; not a ‘part of the Club’” said Glidewell, noting that accomplishments, values and morality are not only to be found in religion or belief in a God.
Several local pastors spoke in favor of the motion, as did others.
The Council was asked, given the short notice, to give the public more time to weigh in on the issue, but the idea was rejected. Councilwoman Smith said that she heard the meeting announced repeatedly on a local radio station and that it was published in the Saturday Inyo Register newspaper. It was true that it was published in the local newspaper, but only two days before the meeting.
“And this be our motto: “In God is our trust,” is found in the National Anthem, adopted in 1931. “In God We Trust” has been on U.S. coins since 1864 and on currency since 1957. And “…one nation under God” was added to the National Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 in response to the Communist threat of the times.
On July 30, 1956, “In God We Trust” was designated as the national motto of the United States.
The use of the word “God” has faced several lawsuits over the past forty-five years and consistently lost. In 1970. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the national motto “has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.”
In 2004, this one over the use of the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court ruled that these acts of “ceremonial deism” are “protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.”
Before the vote, City Attorney Ryan Jones informed Councilmembers prior to their vote, “There is no real legal issue under the Establishment Clause, but if changed in the future, we’ll have to deal with it then.”
If the City of Bishop approves the resolution at its next council meeting, it will join 110 municipalities and counties in California that have given approval to the national motto being displayed on or in a public building.