After the Clark County councilors killed a motion Tuesday morning to display “In God We Trust” in the main hearing room, Clark County Councilor Tom Mielke said he was disappointed by the way the issue was “twisted and spun.”
After hearing about two hours of public testimony — during which a majority of the speakers opposed the controversial proposal — Mielke moved to display the national motto in the meeting room.
Councilor Jeanne Stewart, however, said while she would not be offended by the display, it was clear from the protests that some would feel uncomfortable coming to public meetings if “In God We Trust” was posted. Stewart pledged to oppose the motion to cheers and applause from the audience.
Neither she nor Councilor David Madore seconded Mielke’s motion. Madore, who originally supported the motion on his public Facebook page, told the audience he believed that if the council appeared divided on the issue, it would send the wrong message to citizens of Clark County.
“If we could not have received a unanimous vote here, to me, that is not good enough,” Madore said.
Those who criticized the proposal included non-religious and religious people alike, many of whom said displaying “In God We Trust” would be divisive and ostracize those who are not Christian.
Before the meeting, a crowd of about 50 protesters gathered in front of the Clark County Public Service Center. Many held signs with statements such as “Piety (does not equal) patriotism,” “Respect diversity,” and “E. pluribus unum,” the Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one,” which is featured on the Great Seal of the United States.
Proponents of the measure also appeared in force, and their opposing beliefs were audible and visible from the onset of the meeting. As the crowd said the Pledge of Allegiance, many voices dropped off at “Under God,” while others shouted the words. During the invocation which begins every meeting, Craig Dewey, vice president of the Columbia Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, left the room.
“It’s not inclusive,” Dewey said of the proposal. “It’s exclusive. It’s driving a wedge between portions of the community.”
Mielke, who proposed displaying “In God We Trust,” in the meeting room last month, said those who opposed the motion missed the point. The phrase is not a religious symbol, he said, but rather a way to honor the United States’ national motto, which was adopted in 1956.
“It’s historical,” he said. “We are a part of government.”
The proposal came after Mielke was contacted by Jacquie Sullivan of Bakersfield, Calif., the president of In God We Trust-America. The organization’s mission is “to keep God’s name in America, and acknowledge and affirm the role that faith in God plays in the public lives of the citizens in this country, and in the core values of our nation,” according to its website.
Supporters for the motion included religious leaders, war veterans and a group wearing leather “Bikers for Christ” vests.
Josephine Wentzel of the Campaign for Christ told the council that “We are a God-fearing nation” and that “In God we Trust” should be displayed in lights at the meeting room.
“Anything that promotes love, peace and positivity should be displayed,” Wentzel said. “It’s not anything that would destroy the other side.”
Had Clark County approved the motion, it would have joined 500 counties and cities that have decided to display the motto, according to In God We Trust-America. That includes Pierce County, which last year was the first local government agency in Washington to vote to do so.
Among the protesters was Sam Mulvey of Tacoma. Mulvey, president of the Humanists of Washington, was embroiled in the debate in Pierce County and fought against the motion there.
“I want to stand with people who believe as I do that the United States should have no opinion on religion whatsoever,” Mulvey said.