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Ohio Motto in Conflict

Ohio is one of the few states that have a non-secular state motto. "With God All Things Are Possible" was adopted during the Red scare in 1959 and is a direct quote from the Bible, Book or Matthew 19:26. Gov. George Voinovich, while on a state trip through India, in April 1996, saw a simular Bible verse carved into a govt. building and he decided that Ohio should have it's motto carved into the Statehouse in Columbus. At the time the Statehouse was undergoing a massive restoration. He wanted it carved into one of the walls of the building.

He orignally had the issue drafted into the General Appropration bill but when he found out that the a fight loomed in the Budget committee, he withdrew the proposal. The Governor then took his idea to the quasi-govt. agency in charge of running and upkeep of the Statehouse grounds, the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board. This board is made up of the President of the State Senate and the Speaker of the Ohio House as well as the State Architech and several community leaders appointed by the Governor.

In December of 1996, the Board approved a motified plan to errect a wall at ground level that will have the Motto appear with the State seal on the West lawn.

There was opposition to the plan from the public but the Board and Gov. used the "In God We Trust Argument" to justify the plan. The ACLU filed a lawsuit and a hearing occured on Dec. 18, 1997.

Here is what the ACLU says on the issue:

Proposed State Motto Causes Furor
by Chris Link - Executive Director, ACLU Ohio

Matthew 19:23-26: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.' When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, 'Then who can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said, 'For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.'"

At the urging of Ohio Governor George Voinovich, Capitol Square Review Board, the public body which controls the physical arrangements around the State House in Columbus, has voted to create an outdoor plaza on the west side of the building featuring the motto of the State of Ohio, "..with God all things are possible."

When seen in context (Matthew 19:23-26), the state motto, which was adopted in 1959, is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The motto not only supports religion over non-religion, which has been ruled unconstitutional, it supports a particular religion and a particular doctrine (divine intervention versus the disinterested God who helps those who help themselves) over all others. The motto is an expression of fundamental religious commitment and it is the imposition of a particular religion on a democracy which has articulated the value of separation of church and state for over 200 years.

The board of directors of the ACLU of Ohio has voted to devote resources to challenging the Capitol Square Review Board's plans.

Here is an Editorial from the Columbus Dispatch in support of the plan:

Aug. 5, 1997

ACLU wants God kept out of public square

Over the years, the American Civil Liberties Union has been accused of "chasing God from the public square." Now they're trying to do it almost literally.

Sadly, but predictably, the Ohio Chapter of the ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit to abolish Ohio's state motto, "With God, all things are possible."

The innocuous phrase was adopted by the General Assembly in 1959 at the urging of a Cincinnati boy and has sat quietly in the statute books ever since. The motto also appears on the Franklin County Courthouse and stationery of some state officials.

But it was not until Gov. George V. Voinovich proposed engraving it on the plaza in front of the Statehouse that the ACLU saw fit to challenge the motto's constitutionality.

Their complaint, oddly enough, is not with the word "God," but with the man who originally uttered it: Jesus Christ. The motto is lifted from a quote by Jesus in Matthew 19:26, and a similar verse appears in the Gospel of Mark.

Even though the God that Jesus referred to is the same for Christians, Jews and Muslims, the ACLU's contention is that the motto is Christian in origin, and thus an unconstitutional endorsement of a single religion.

Logic followed to an extreme, particularly in defense of a principle, can lead to absurdity. The plain fact is that the words of Ohio's motto, on their face, do not endorse one religion over another. Probably not one Ohioan in a hundred could even identify the state's motto, to say nothing of how many know its precise biblical origins.

An ACLU spokeswoman also contended that Orthodox Jews who believe it is disrespectful to write or speak the name of God and might be offended by the motto. That is a gross distortion of Jewish belief, according to an Orthodox rabbi contacted by The Dispatch. He said the vast majority of Orthodox Jews would not be offended by the state motto.

Buddhists would not be offended either, according to Lama Kathy Wesley of Newark. She said Buddhists have no doctrine on the existence of a Supreme Being, but that the Buddha specifically taught his followers to refrain from criticizing other people's religious beliefs.

Muslims revere Christ as a prophet.

Atheists notwithstanding, the courts have long recognized the government's ability to acknowledge God's existence. Legislative sessions are opened with prayer. The military pays for chaplains. Currency is engraved with the national motto: "In God we trust." And the Pledge of Allegiance includes "one nation under God."

Four other state mottos contain theological references: Arizona (Ditat Deus, or God enriches), Colorado (Nil Sine Numine, or Nothing without Providence), South Dakota (Under God, the people rule) and Florida (In God we trust).

In the nation's birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence, the first and second sentences refer to God and the Creator as the source of all law and human rights, while the last sentence concludes with "a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence," to support the case for independence. Such references to God indicate the Founding Fathers' strong belief that democratic self-government and the rule of law presuppose a high degree of public morality, the source of which is predominantly religious in nature.

Perhaps that is why the Ohio Constitution's framers began it with: "We, the People of the State of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom . . . ."

First Amendment freedoms are near and dear to The Dispatch, which has sided with the ACLU on many occasions. So it is disappointing to see the organization, which carefully weighs the cases it takes on, pursuing this most abstract case, one that affects the individual rights and liberties of no one.

A state motto, almost by definition, is purely symbolic. Is it too much to ask for Ohio to have a mildly inspiring recognition of God's influence on our society?

The ACLU would answer yes. Because the motto quotes Jesus, they say, it cannot serve as an official motto because it might be offensive to a few. This from the same group that took a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court so the Ku Klux Klan could erect a cross on the Statehouse lawn, offending nearly everyone. Is this what the First Amendment means? The Dispatch disagrees.

We stick by Ohio's state motto.

If the ACLU wants to go around changing state mottos, it ought to look at Maryland's: Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine (translated: Manly deeds, womanly words). Sounds awfully sexist. Probably could sue someone over that one.

Back to the ACLU vs. Ohio page

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