Council to Consider 'E Pluribus Unum' on Office Wall
• Rejects Lobby for 'In God We Trust' that Predicates Patriotism on Religiosity
BY BILL KOENEKER
Malibu City Council members were split on allowing the display of the motto, "In God We Trust" at Malibu City Hall with Councilmembers Lou LaMonte and Pamela Conley Ulich favoring it and Mayor Laura Rosenthal and Councilmembers John Sibert and Jefferson Wagner opposed.
Instead, the council decided they would discuss placing the motto E Pluribus Unum, Latin meaning all for one, in City Hall.
Conley Ulich and La Monte had wanted their colleagues to consider the matter of placing what is called our country's national motto in City Hall.
Proponents, who are not from Malibu, but represented a group that lobbies around the country, equated a level of patriotism with those who endorsed placing the motto in civic places.
However, Councilmember John Sibert was most adamant about how he believed in the separation of church and state. "I recognize the motto has been adopted twice by Congress. They are equating putting up this motto with patriotism. If I don't believe in putting this motto up, then I am not a patriot? That is wrong. The people pushing this are equating patriotism and Christianity," he said.
"I have the same difficulties with this," said Wagner, who went on to talk about how many religious activities the city endorses, including a crèche on city land. "I stand with John. This is a no go," he added.
La Monte said he does not equate patriotism with displaying the motto. "These four words are something to be forbidden?" he asked. He said Conley Ulich had brought the matter up and he wanted to hear from his colleagues. "I got phone calls about 50-50 on this," he said.
Some local opponents, who urged the council to not endorse the public display of the motto, were also critical of Conley Ulich.
"You obviously don't know me," responded Conley Ulich. "I do what I think is right. I feel strongly about displaying the motto. I understand what John and Jay are saying about equating it with patriotism. But the motto is for everyone, not for just one group. I can display it on my own property. I don't care about my approval ratings."
"I'm really against bringing this up," said Mayor Laura Rosenthal. "I agree with John and Jay, patriotism does not have anything to do with it. I feel strongly about the separation of church and state."
The mayor suggested E pluribus unum. "That is a great motto," she added. Other council members concurred.
However, a shout from the public about acting on an item that was not on the agenda caused City Attorney Christi Hogin to advise the matter should be brought back at the next council hearing.
Malibu resident Lucy Atwood said she was offended that "outside" groups would come to Malibu to urge the action. She said it would be different if it were Malibu residents.
"'In God We Trust' for 180 years was not our motto," she added. "This country is about everybody, not just those who believe in God."
John Carr said his group, In God We Trust. Inc. is trying to encourage patriotism. "It does not offend anyone. This is legally approved. Patriotism is a love of God and a love of country."
According to the city manager, on July 30, 1957, the U.S. code section 302 established the saying found on U.S. dollar bills and coins as the country's national motto.
On Nov. 13, 2002, the 107th Congress "reaffirmed the exact language that has appeared in the Motto for decades," according to Thorsen's research.
In God We Trust—America, Inc. was put together to promote the display of the national motto in city halls and county headquarters across the country.
According to the campaign's website, 364 cities or counties across the country, including 89 in California, have approved the displays.
However, the motto is not without controversy. For a long time, critics have contended the words are indeed a matter of "law respecting an establishment of religion," by the government and violates the establishment clause of the first amendment and the separation of church and state.
Critics went to court in 1970, but the appellate court ruled otherwise, saying "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency. 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."
The U. S. Supreme Court, in settling the matter, also held that the nation's "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of such a state church as the Constitution's authors intended to prohibit."