Stokes County, North Carolina, commissioners have unanimously approved a request by the U.S. Motto Action Committee to place the national motto “In God We Trust” on the exterior of the county courthouse.
Davidson County Commissioner Fred McClure, who spoke to the commissioners on behalf of the U.S. Motto Action Committee, said that the organization would pay for the placement. Upon learning that the placement would cost neither the county nor its residents, the commissioners supported the request, according to notes from the board’s March 23 meeting.
The organization had wanted to place the motto on multiple buildings, but was only approved to place it on the county courthouse.
Local boards in Stokes and other nearby counties have struggled with controversies over religion in the past. Board Chair Ronda Jones made it clear before the board’s vote that the initiative to place “In God We Trust” had been pursued by the U.S. Motto Action Committee.
“This is not the county’s initiative,” Jones said. “This is this group’s initiative. We are not clear of having a lawsuit, but this group has assured me they will fund anything that comes up. And while I am going to vote in favor of this, I am not willing to spend one red cent to defend it. I do hope that I live to see the day when we are doing things that are inclusive for all people.”
Steven Hewett, a decorated Army veteran who successfully sued the City of King in 2012 for flying a Christian flag at the Veteran's Memorial in Central Park, has publicly criticized the promotion of Christianity through governmental facilities. He spoke during the Stokes County Board of Commissioners meeting and requested that a more inclusive motto be placed alongside "In God We Trust."
“Placing ‘In God We Trust’ on any governmental facility disenfranchises and marginalizes those citizens who do not believe in your version of a God, those religions who do not have a God or have multiple Gods, and those who simply do not believe in a god,” Hewett said.
“We submit that ‘In Reason We Trust’ also be approved and that it be placed next to and in the same lettering as what the U.S. Motto Action Committee has requested,” Hewett added. “This will also be at no cost to the county and will be paid for by private funds. To refuse this request and grant only the U.S. Motto Action Committee’s request would be denying the citizens' right to free speech and access to such a free speech forum.”
Hewett asked the commissioners to place his request on a future agenda, to which Jones replied she would likely do.