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Could ‘In God We Trust’ lead to lawsuit?

Officials, residents contemplate impact of placing religious text on government property

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Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 3:53 pm

Tyrone Twp. — Do the words “In God We Trust” have a place on the walls of the Tyrone Township hall? It was a proposal officials discussed at length during the board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. And, depending on the future outcome of certain court cases, the board could vote later to have the words decorated on the walls.

 In a 4-2 vote, the board decided to revisit the issue of having “In God We Trust” painted on the township halls pursuant of the outcome of a court case filed in March. The court case was filed in New York by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against the U.S. Treasury for printing the words “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.

 Officials and some township residents were concerned that the words could spark a lawsuit if placed on the township hall walls.

 “If the board goes forward with this, I am quite certain someone will feel offended. This is an emotional issue and when people are offended by emotional issues, they tend to initiate lawsuits,” said resident Marv Frankel, who suggested the board make a decision after the court’s ruling. “To pay out as much as $200,000 or $300,000 over two or three years to defend a lawsuit seems counterproductive. If you lose that kind of money, you can’t deliver the basic services that the residents are paying for.”

 Trustee Charles Schultz said the words were very vague and could allude to any deity. As for offending people, Shultz said only a true atheist would be offended but shouldn’t care enough to take action.

 “We are supposed to support, promote our culture of this township. That is part of our job as a township board,” said Shultz, who suggested possibly putting the issue on an upcoming ballot so the residents could vote on it. “Is this something we can let the people of this township decide?”

 Township resident Jade Smith echoed Frankel’s reasoning, urging the board to err on the side of caution.

 “People come to this building to take care of important business that affects their livelihood,” Smith said. “This building needs to represent a neutral place that doesn’t alienate anybody or doesn’t make anyone feel ostracized.”

 Frankel and Smith both said they were neither for nor against the words but more concerned about the potential financial impact to the township of a lawsuit.

 According to recent studies, most Americans hold some sort of belief in God. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, roughly 70 percent of residents in Livingston County identified with a religion. In 2012, The Pew Research Center reported that 80 percent of adults nationwide identified themselves as religious.

 What action the board will take once the court makes a decision is not clear. For Township Supervisor Mike Cunningham, who said he spoke about the issue with his own pastor, the township has to consider every potential before making a final decision.

 “Usually we stay neutral on things like this,” Cunningham said. “What does the township have to gain from this? My personal feeling is nothing. What does the township have to lose? There’s potential for a lawsuit.”

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1 comment:

  • anonymous posted at 11:50 am on Mon, Aug 12, 2013.

    anonymous Posts: 4405

    The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our Constitution was designed to protect people not just from the tyranny of one religion over another, but also to protect people from the tyranny of religion over non-religion. The phrase "In God We Trust" used by government as an official motto and on our currency is unconstitutional because it suggests preferential treatment toward religion over non-religion. It does not matter one bit that the majority of people in this country identify with some religious tradition. The Constitution was written to protect the minority from the majority. A community can't vote to bring religion into their government just because they consider it an important component of their culture. This is not a "majority rules" issue. Resident Jade Smith is quite correct in saying a government building should be a place of neutrality regarding the subject of religion by not advocating either for it or against it. Would those with religious identity not be offended if our country's official motto was "In No Gods Do We Trust?"

    Trustee Charles Schultz is incorrect when he says: "Only a true atheist would be offended but shouldn’t care enough to take action." The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an organization whose membership is predominantly atheist. And this is exactly why they ARE taking action, because they work to uphold the Constitutional principle of the separation between state and church. And this is something that even many people of religious identity work to preserve as well, because they understand we cannot have freedom of religion without freedom FROM religion.


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