After being inundated with emails and media attention, the Pierce County Council will face a controversial decision Tuesday on whether to display the national motto “In God We Trust” on a plaque in the Council Chambers.
Without making a recommendation, a council committee voted 3-0 Monday to forward the proposal for a vote of the full seven-member council.
Some council members said they were surprised by the attention the idea has attracted. Council Chairman Dan Roach said most of the 20 emails he had read as of Monday morning opposed displaying the motto.
“I don’t understand why this is so controversial,” Roach said, adding that “In God We Trust” lets people decide who God is.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian God, a Hindu God, a Muslim God, science, Mother Earth,” said Roach, R-Bonney Lake.
“God is what you want God to be,” he said. “I think it’s all-inclusive.”
Councilman Jim McCune, R-Graham, who is sponsoring the proposal, said it “went viral” Sunday night in the media after a story appeared in The News Tribune. He, too, said he was puzzled by the controversy.
“‘In God We Trust’ is universal,” he said. “It doesn’t have “In Muhammad We Trust,’ it doesn’t have ‘In Jesus We Trust.’”
McCune said the motto “brings comfort to a lot of people.”
Sam Mulvey, president of Humanists of Washington, told the Rules and Operations Committee Monday that he feels excluded by the proposal. He was the only member of the public to speak against it.
“It is not inclusive,” said Mulvey, a Tacoma resident who said he’s an atheist. “It would be a clear sign to me that Pierce County does not care about me and does not care about the people who think as I do.”
Mulvey said Christian organizations behind the nationwide movement to post the motto see the nation as “primarily a Christian one.”
Douglas White of Lakewood was one of four people who spoke briefly in support of posting the motto.
“Why not have a plaque in every school yard and everywhere in the country where we can publicly put one and have people still proclaiming the goodness of God?” White said.
Robert Wardell of Tacoma agreed that the motto should be displayed at other public institutions as well, including the meeting chambers of the Tacoma City Council.
“I would like to see it put everywhere,” he said. “God is everywhere.”
Nearly 400 cities and counties in 23 states have voted to display the national motto in their chambers. Washington is not among those states.
Council member Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, opposes posting the motto.
“It’s not inclusive,” Ladenburg said Monday. She said the terminology of “In God We Trust” represents Western religion.
“I don’t just think that we should be here talking about religion in government,” Ladenburg said.
Ladenburg later said she will propose amending the proposal Tuesday with Allah, Yahweh and several other names for deities. She said she also will suggest substituting “In God We Trust” with “Liberty and Justice for All.”
Committee members Roach, Stan Flemming and Joyce McDonald voted to move the proposal forward with no recommendation.
Flemming, R-Gig Harbor, said he doesn’t view the slogan as representing Western religion.
“I don’t have an issue with the motto itself,” he said. “It’s not exclusive.”
Flemming said he wants the full council to debate the measure. He also wants to know where in the chambers the motto would be posted and how large it would be.
McDonald, R-Puyallup, said she also was surprised the proposal has generated controversy. She said she has no problem with the national motto and posting a plaque with it in the Council Chambers.
McCune defended his proposal.
“I’m not doing this for taking a stand or making a point,” he said. “I’m doing this because it is our national heritage.”