The phrase “In God We Trust” is about to make its way into the Gaston County Courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, and some folks are not happy about it.
County commissioners reached a unanimous decision in March to pass a resolution that would put the historical phrase on the marquee of the downtown Gastonia courthouse, the Charlotte Observer reports.
The phrase is expected to be put on display within the coming weeks and it is being funded by a private donation.
The resolution claims the reason behind the move is to “solemnize public occasions and express confidence in our society.”
“It will be easily recognizable,” Tracy Philbeck, commissioners chairman, told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s who we are.”
But not everyone is a fan of the resolution.
While the phrase has been used for more than a century and has even found its way onto U.S. currency, some believe it evokes religious sentiment and is a violation of the concept of separation of church and state.
Supporters argue the phrase is a national motto with historical significance and a sign of patriotism.
Around 500 governments across the country have already passed similar resolutions, allowing for the phrase to appear in schools and other public institutions, according to the U.S. Motto Action Committee.
The committee's president, Rick Lanier, fought for the phrase to be displayed on the county building in the early 2000s. He encouraged Philbeck to finish what he started.
Philbeck was reportedly hesitant at first but said the county was confident it would withstand any legal challenges.
Attorney for Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom From Religious Foundation Patrick Elliot opposed the resolution, calling it a “matter of policy.” The organization has filed numerous lawsuits in the past to have the phrase removed from the public sphere.
Elliot argued that with the courthouse displaying such a message, “it’s not really a welcoming government facility.”
A year ago, the foundation asked the town of Dallas, North Carolina, to remove a Nativity scene that was on display for decades on the lawn of the old county courthouse unless it included other holiday-themed decorations. The town complied and moved the display to an even more prominent location on private property.
Elliot does not believe the commissioner’s push to pass the resolution is purely for historical reasons. He believes they have ulterior motives that are religious
To win the case in court, the plaintiff would have to prove that commissioners passed the resolution on religious grounds. Elliot admitted that this could be a difficult challenge but added, “it’s not safe to assume that this would be legal.”
The Reverend Mark Creech, who is also the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, gave his opinion on the matter.
He said that the separation of church and state was “never meant to sanitize all references to God.”
He added that because the phrase is everywhere, it further validates its place in society.
“You’re going to have change a whole lot of major monuments across the country to do that,” Creech said.
While many fully immersed themselves in the discussion, others were surprised the topic of separation of church and state is still considered to be a worthwhile debate.
“It’s the same old song and dance,” second vice chairwoman of the Gaston County Democratic Party Karen Turner told the Charlotte Observer.
Turner cited another resolution passed by commissioners, including a symbolic one in November that opposed same-sex marriage.
She went on to criticize the priorities of commissioners, suggesting they do not put enough focus on more pressing issues, such as addressing poverty and creating jobs.
“This area is so poor,” Turner said. “We have no resolution about that.”
Sources: The Charlotte Observer