Note: This article appeared on the Freedom Forum website on 12/19/97.
By Jeremy Leaming
Ohio's solicitor argued Dec. 18 in federal court that the state's motto "With God all things are possible" does not amount to a government endorsement of Christianity.
Solicitor Jeffery Sutton told U.S. District Judge James Graham that the state should be allowed to continue using the motto despite claims by the American Civil Liberties Union that the motto subverts the separation of church and state.
Sutton said the motto does not establish Christianity as the official state religion, but merely makes a general reference to God, according to The Akron Beacon Journal.
The ACLU, however, told the judge that the motto is unconstitutional and that an injunction should be granted to prohibit the state's use of the motto.
"The motto is a direct quotation of Jesus according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke," Mark Cohn, the attorney representing the ACLU, told the First Amendment Center. "According to those gospels, Jesus is answering the disciples' question of how man can achieve salvation. There is debate among theologians as to whether the words can actually be attributed to Jesus, but the government has no place in that debate."
Cohn said the state's use of the quote violates the separation of church and state because it unduly entangles government in a theological debate, has no secular purpose and advances Christianity over all other religions.
"The state's main defense of the motto is that the people of Ohio are too stupid to know that the quote is from the Bible and therefore do not perceive it as an endorsement of Christianity," Cohn said.
Sutton, however, argued that the United States motto
"In God we trust" has more religious overtones and has
been supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to
The Akron Beacon-Journal.
Douglas Laycock, a University of Texas Law School professor and religious liberty scholar, told the First Amendment Center that the court is likely to prohibit the use of the motto.
Although "there is not a basic principle courts use to decide which municipal or state slogans should be tolerated," the court probably will find that this motto violates the Constitution, Laycock said.