While Polk County government is preparing for the installation of “In God We Trust” signs on the Womack building and the Polk County Sheriff has applied “In God We Trust” stickers on patrol cars, the City of Saluda denied a request to add the words to its city hall building.
The Saluda Board of Commissioners met Monday, March 14 and unanimously denied a request to add “In God We Trust” on its city hall and police department. Before commissioners discussed the request, the board heard from six residents during public comment, all against including the words.
Resident Ellen Rogers was first to speak and said any motto with the word “God” shouts that Christianity is the law of the land.
“As you well know the people of the United States and of Saluda are not made up of merely Christians,” said Rogers. “We are a far more spiritually diverse community of Atheists, Buddhists, Jews, Agnostics and Christians to name a few.”
Rogers suggested if the city feels the windows of city hall are naked without a motto, to place the original motto of this country on them, “E Pluribus Unum,” which translated means, “out of many, one.” The original motto is on several seals and all U.S. currency.
“E Pluribus Unum is the motto of the United States as our founding fathers intended,” said Rogers. “Let us not forget it. In contrast, the use of ‘In God We Trust’ has been extremely divisive. It intentionally leaves out an entire section of our population.”
Rogers said Mike Meno, communications director for the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU, said that government buildings should welcome all members of the community equally, not just those who share the majority of religious views. People who practice a different religion or no religion at all should not be made to feel like outsiders when they enter their local courthouse or government office, said Meno.
“Saluda need not adopt a motto that was created in fearful reaction to communism,” Rogers told commissioners. “Is that really the style of government we want?”
Betsy Burdett said she is a Christian and majored in religion and college but disagrees that the city should place the motto on its building. Burdett said our relationship with God is a personal relationship not a corporate relationship.
Augusta Anderson the “In God We Trust” motto was first used to insinuate that God favored the side of the North. She said she cannot find a single reference that Jesus of Nazareth ever uttered these words. She said if this motion is to promote one God over another then that is a violation of the First Amendment. Anderson also said placing the motto in the city might not be good for business from an economic standpoint.
“We might potentially be discouraging the very thing this community needs to thrive and grow,” said Anderson. “I suggest we leave the motto on the money.”
Following the public comments commissioner Mark Oxtoby said the board hasn’t considered anything. Commissioner Carolyn Ashburn said a motto action committee brought the request to Saluda and as part of their information, their purpose is to promote Christian heritage with hopes Americans would turn back to them.
Saluda City Manager Jon Cannon said during the city’s Feb. 8 meeting, commissioners reviewed the possibility of installing the words on city hall and instructed him to provide a proposed location and cost for installation.
Cannon said in order to install the wording on the building it would require fixing a placard to the face of city hall. The most logical location, he said, would be to place either vinyl or painting of the words on the windows. Costs included either for vinyl lettering or $100-$150 for painting. Cannon spoke with historic preservation officials since city hall is an historic building and they encouraged painting.
Commissioner Stan Walker said personally he doesn’t have an issue with it other than it does bring up a discussion that creates hard feelings.
“I think personally, why bother,” Walker said.
Walker said to him it would just be creating more of an issue.
Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said he agreed with Anderson, who said you don’t show your religion by putting words on a building.
“You show your religion by how you live,” Baisden said. “I’m neutral on it. It doesn’t fit on the building.”
Ashburn said she wants Saluda to be inclusive and to welcome all people and she would vote no on placing the motto on the city building.
Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to deny the request to install the motto.