The national motto has been used on U.S. coins since 1864. The words “In God We Trust” are engraved above the entrance to the U.S. Senate chamber and above the Speaker’s dais in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Now Pierce County Councilman Jim McCune wants to display the motto in the Council Chambers in downtown Tacoma.
His resolution asks the council to approve posting the “inspiring” and “patriotic” slogan.
“It’s a great national motto to be proud of,” said McCune, R-Graham.
A council committee Monday will consider his resolution requesting the prominent and permanent display of “In God We Trust” in the Council Chambers in the County-City Building. Final council action is scheduled for Tuesday.
“This is a celebration of our national motto,” McCune told a council committee last week.
Two County Council members oppose the step as not being inclusive enough, while the council’s chairman supports the proposal.
A group founded and led by Jacquie Sullivan, a Bakersfield, California, City Council member, urges displaying the motto in government buildings around the country. The goal of her group, “In God We Trust-America,” is “to promote patriotism by encouraging elected officials to ‘vote yes’ to legally display our Congressionally approved national motto ‘In God We Trust’ in every city, county, state chamber in America.”
The group’s website says nearly 400 cities and counties in 23 states have voted to display the national motto in their chambers. Washington is not listed as one of the states.
“It’s pretty much a movement across the United States,” McCune said.
He said nothing recent prompted him to make the request.
“What prompted me is the national heritage,” he said.
“In both war and peace, these words have been a profound source of strength and guidance to many generations of Americans,” his resolution states. Displaying the motto is a way “to solemnize public occasions and express confidence in our society,” the proposal says.
Congress adopted “In God We Trust” as the national motto in 1956.
Some groups have unsuccessfully challenged it, saying it violates the separation of church and state. Courts have ruled the motto is “ceremonial deism,” not an endorsement of religion.
McCune said he wants to hang the motto on a plaque near the county seal on the wall behind where the seven council members sit during their meetings.
Council members Connie Ladenburg and Rick Talbert, both Tacoma Democrats, said they oppose the proposal.
“I just think it kind of opens up the door for possible controversy,” Ladenburg said.
“I think it also is kind of limiting in regards to a Christian god,” she said. “If we’re going to do something, we need to be more inclusive than exclusive in recognizing deity.”
Talbert said the council should “try to be inclusive of all our citizens’ beliefs and not a single belief, even if it’s the belief of the majority.”
“There are a lot of other issues we should be focusing our attention on,” he said. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you always should.”
Council Chairman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, supports displaying the motto.
“I like it,” Roach said. “I just think it’s a reminder of the principles the country was founded on.”
Council attorney Susan Long said the council isn’t legally required to approve displaying the motto. But council members would need to agree as a group on spending money for a display and would likely want to discuss where the motto would be placed in the room where they regularly meet.
McCune agreed that it’s proper procedure to get the council’s OK to post the motto. He said council members would also need to decide where in the chambers to hang the plaque.