State motto ruling starts much debate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 27, 2000

The Associated Press

DAYTON – If Ohio’s state motto – ”With God all things are possible” – is unconstitutional, what about references to deity in other states’ mottos?<!—->.

Thursday, April 27, 2000

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DAYTON – If Ohio’s state motto – ”With God all things are possible” – is unconstitutional, what about references to deity in other states’ mottos?

Arizona uses ”God Enriches.”

South Dakota’s motto is ”Under God the people will rule.”

Florida’s motto, ”In God we trust,” mirrors the nation’s.

”The safe prediction is that other state mottoes won’t suffer the same fate,” said Louis Jacobs, an Ohio State University law professor.

The American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Ohio’s motto is unconstitutional because it comes from a Bible passage, Matthew 19:26, which quotes Jesus Christ.

”Those other states have much more casual or bland references to God in their mottoes,” said Raymond Vasvari, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio based in Cleveland. ”Officials like (Gov.) Bob Taft and (Attorney General) Betty Montgomery are downplaying the fact that the state appropriated sacred text.”

Despite Tuesday’s ruling by the federal appeals court, Taft and Montgomery are backing the state motto and will appeal.

The ACLU and the plaintiff, the Rev. Matthew Peterson, a Presbyterian minister, claimed the words were a government endorsement of Christian religion. But a statement released Wednesday by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations endorsed the motto.

”The statement ‘With God, all things are possible,’ is not, as the court stated, ‘a uniquely Christian thought,”’ the group said. ”In fact, a similar phrase in used many times throughout the Koran, Islam’s revealed text. For example, verse 106 of chapter 2 states: ‘Know you not that God is able to do all things.’

”We agree with dissenting Judge David Nelson, who found the motto no more troubling than the words ‘In God We Trust’ on American currency.”

The controversy is still sinking in with James Mastronardo, who as a youngster in the 1950s, began a three-year campaign to have the motto adopted.

”I’ve got quite a few reactions, but I think I need to settle down to think about it,” said Mastronardo, who now lives in Florence, Ky.

The debate about the state motto also strikes close to home for Hope Taft, wife of the governor.

In 1954, Mrs. Taft’s father, Matthew Rothert Sr., successfully lobbied Congress to add the motto ”In God we trust” to U.S. paper currency.

Now, Mrs. Taft sees the court ruling overturning the state motto – ”With God, all things are possible” – as a threat to her father’s effort.

”You knock one thing down, and they’re on to the next one,” she said. ”I think both mottos should stay just as they are.”

Although the plaintiff in the Ohio motto case was a minister, other clergy members criticized the ruling.

”It’s a step backward,” said Pastor Allen T. Ross of the Kettering Assembly of God Church. ”It symbolizes an erosion of values that are beneficial to our country.”

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the ruling ”a no-brainer.” The Washington-based watchdog group has 60,000 members.

”The state of Ohio, which represents a broad and diverse population of many faiths, has no business promoting the Christian Bible or giving it official recognition,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director.

The Libertarian Party of Ohio also agreed with the court ruling.

”Under no circumstances,” said Dena Bruedigam, state party director, ”should government aid or attack religion or belief in a supreme being.

”We aren’t interested in forcing our personal beliefs on another, and we don’t think the state of Ohio should be, either.”