COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–A 9-4 federal court ruling for Ohio’s motto, “With God, all things are possible,” is “an important victory for freedom and a sound defeat for those who want to strip our nation of its religious heritage,” constitutional attorney Jay Sekulow said.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which Sekulow leads as chief counsel, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the state of Ohio in the case.
The March 16 decision upholding the Ohio motto’s constitutionality “comes at a time when there is a national movement underway to remove any mention of ‘God’ from the public arena,” Sekulow said. “The court decision affirms what we have believed from the beginning — the Ohio motto is constitutional and represents an important recognition that the motto reflects both the cultural and historical importance of our past and should not be banned.”
The full appeals court acted in the case after a 2-1 ruling by three 6th Circuit judges last April that the motto was unconstitutional.
In a Topeka, Kan., federal case three months ago, the ACLJ succeeded in getting an ACLU lawsuit dismissed against the treasurer of Shawnee County for displaying a sign in county offices with the nation’s motto, “In God We Trust.”
In the Kansas ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Sam A. Crow described as “patently frivolous without any basis in law” an ACLU claim that the posting of “In God We Trust” violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The motto “In God We Trust” appears on U.S. currency and has been the official U.S. motto since the 1950s. Ohio’s motto, “With God, all things are possible” from Jesus’ words in Scripture, was adopted in 1959.
U.S. Circuit Judge David A. Nelson, penning the majority decision for the Cincinnati appeals court, wrote that Ohio’s motto “does not purport to compel belief or acquiescence. It does not command participation in any form of religious exercise. It does not assert a preference for one religious denomination or sect over others, and it does not involve the state in the governance of any church. It imposes no tax or other impost for the support of any church or group of churches. Neither does it impose any religious test as a qualification for holding political office, voting in elections, teaching at a university, or exercising any other right or privilege. And, as far as we can see, its adoption by the General Assembly does not represent a step calculated to lead to any of these prohibited ends.”
The motto, instead, is a sentiment shared by Ohio residents who believe in “ceremonial deism,” Nelson wrote, noting that the Constitution’s prohibition against the “establishment of religion” merely bans the adoption of a national religion.
“The provision was not understood as prohibiting the state from merely giving voice, in general terms, to religious sentiments widely shared by those of its citizens who profess a belief in God,” Nelson wrote, describing the motto as “a symbol of common identity” which serves “an important secular purpose — re-enforcing the citizen’s sense of membership in an identifiable state or nation.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Gilbert S. Merritt wrote, “To say that Christ’s words ‘with God, all things are possible’ is merely a symbol of hope, inspiration and good luck, like [a] buckeye, is as plausible as saying that the cross, the symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection to save mankind, is not uniquely Christian because crucifixion was a common means of execution in Rome or that the Star of David is not uniquely Jewish because the hexagram also appeared in Islamic art during the Middle Ages.”
Merritt also contended that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause “forbids prayer in public schools, prayer at graduation and high school football games, religious creche sets on the public square, posting the Ten Commandments in public schools and other public places, using public funds to support religious schools, banning the teaching of evolution, requiring creationism to be taught, and other similar efforts to advance Christianity.”
The ACLU is now weighing whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to news reports, while Gov. Bob Taft called the ruling “a victory for the people of our state and the traditions that bind us together. … Our state motto has overwhelming support, and I’m pleased that we have survived this challenge.”
The Ohio motto controversy dates back to 1997 when former Gov. George Voinovich, now in the U.S. Senate, ordered the phrase engraved in front of the statehouse walkway in Columbus. A Presbyterian minister from Cleveland Heights stepped forward as the ACLU’s plaintiff.
The motto, which also is used on tax forms and some official stationery, was adopted in 1959 at the suggestion of a Cincinnati schoolboy after he learned that Ohio was the only U.S. state without an official motto.