Trying to remove religion from obvious religious text is wrong and pointless (1998)

I recently found a 1998 clipping of a column by Columbus Dispatch writer Joe Blundo in a box of old files from that time period. I probably meant to post it on my ACLU v Ohio web pages but for some reason I never did.

So I decided to do it now because Blundo's take on the issue is how I still feel about Ohio's motto and government cheerleading for religion in general.

-- Doug 05/12/2016

State motto lets politicians blame too much on God

"With God, all things are possible."

It's the state motto, and the state wants to stick it on the walls of the Statehouse in 6-inch bronze letters.

This is one citizen of Ohio who says no, thanks.

As you may have heard, Gov. George V. Voinovich first proposed in April 1996 putting the motto on the Statehouse.

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued, contending it would violate the separation of church and state.

In late December, the case was argued before U.S. District Judge James L. v Graham. He has yet to rule.

If it were just a question of whether political correctness censors should be allowed to nitpick another form of religious expression, I'd say let's emblazon the motto in 6-foot letters on the Statehouse. I've had enough of thought control from the exquisitely sensitive left.

Still, I'd just as soon not have the words of the state motto on the wall. In fact, I'd just as soon not have the state motto, period. It Smacks of too much pride to my ears.

Other ears hear it differently. The ACLU attorneys argued in court that the sentence in question is a direct quote from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew and that it means we will be saved only by the grace of God. The state argued that it goes back further than that and can mean many things.

Maybe, but taken out of context as it is in the motto, the sentence sounds to me like another way of saying we can accomplish anything with God's help.

This makes me nervous because the next step in that thought process is to assume we know when God is helping. The record of history shows that governments have done some atrocious things while claiming God was on their side.

I don't want state authorities running around thinking that with God all things are possible. Too many politicians already think they know the will of God. A few of them think they are God. Let's not encourage them.

How about a new motto" Something along the lines of "May God forgive us for the mistakes we make under this roof."

That's not from the Bible - I made it up. But it wouldn't be difficult to find something in the Bible that expresses similar caution about putting too much faith in human institutions.

State Officials shouldn't mind a little tinkering with the motto. Judging from news accounts, they don't even know what it means.

One religious expert, testifying for the state, said With God, all things are possible is open to interpretation, like many biblical phrases.

"They haven't had a fixed meaning throughout time; they don't have a fixed meaning right at this moment," he said.

Another state expert argued that the motto simply means we cannot control everything. "Some people call it luck. Some people call it fate. Some people call it God."

An attorney for the state said, "It's a phrase that has many meanings."

This doesn't make me feel better. I don't trust politicians with the Bible. I think more than a few of them are convinced they know exactly what that motto means and are only too willing to use it, and anything else they find in the book, to justify whatever they feel like doing.

But let's say the motto really is just an ambiguous little phrase. What's the point of displaying it, then? The state is waging legal war for the right to say something that means nothing and everything?

What kind of a statement of faith is that?

It's this kind:

If the motto means whatever anyone wants it to mean, then the point of displaying it must not be to inspire or instruct. It must simply be to show that it can be done.

And those who want to show that it can be done are assuming, no doubt, that it's the right thing to do.

And if they're assuming it's the right thing to do, then they must be assuming that God would approve.

And this brings us back to the problem of state authorities assuming they know the will of God.

They don't. Which is why I don't like the motto.

Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist
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