With the garage door open, Richard pulled into the driveway. He gently pressed his foot down on the brake to ease his entry into the garage, making sure he didn’t go far enough to damage the wall and his own car. Once in park, Richard stretched his arms, grabbed his coat from the back seat, and walked into the house.
Richard was a tall and hairy person, complete with a beard and round chin. His profession was accounting, and he was now off work, free to relax in the comfort of his house for the remainder of the evening.
When he entered the house through the garage, it was rather dark. He forgot to leave the coffee table light on for when he got home. No activity occured in his house, for he was a single adult. Relationships had been well with him in the past, but he embraced the freedom of a bachelor’s life. No one to argue with, no one telling him what time he needed to be home, no one to cook for him. This was okay, for he always ate microwaveable dinners.
Richard’s body sank into the confortable black leather couch in the living room, and he activated the television set with the remote. Since it was a little after 5:30, the news was on.
Richard proceeded to sip from the glass of tea he had just poured for his enjoyment when the first news story they were covering caught his attention.
In other news, councilwoman Carey Louis has proposed to install the words “In God We Trust” on City Hall. Louis states that after such recent national tragedies, it is important that we direct ourselves back in the right direction.
The screen, displaying the face of the news anchor, changed to the sight of the councilwoman.
“I think our country has been drifting from it’s roots. We’ve been directing our attention away from God. I think we should honor Him once again by placing these words on City Hall…”
The screen changed back to the anchor.
Other members of City Council have expressed their interest in the proposal, and the issue with be voted on February 24. Well, nows it time to look at weather…
Richard watched disfavorably, as yet another local official stated that the country was founded on Christian principles. Since the city he lived in was overwhelmingly conservative Republican, and since most people were religious, he was sure of himself that there would be little opposition to the proposal.
Richard, being an atheist, shrugged it all off as nonsense. Then something occurred to his mind: whenever City Council met to vote on an issue, they would always listen to the local people and observe their opinions on the issue. He then decided that he would show up for the next meeting and voice his disapproval of the proposal. After all, he doubted anyone else would speak out against it.
* * *
Richard walked into the room of the City Council and was amazed at the amount of people that had showed up to watch the proceedings.
It was February 24th, and City Council would vote on the issue later on that evening. First, though, a few speeches were to be presented.
After finding an empty seat, Richard went to sit down. A few minutes later, people began approaching the podium to speak.
Richard was further amazed to see that not everyone supported the proposal either. A few people stood up, explaining why they supported the proposal, and other people took turns speaking as well. But there were even a few religious people who disliked the proposal, saying such things as that putting God up on City Hall would take his name in vain, among other arguments. Yet still, most spoke in favor of the proposal.
When Richard found the opportunity to come forward to the podium, he took it. A few days earlier, he had written his position on the proposal, though he had memorized it in his mind so that he wouldn’t be bound to reading a few pages as he spoke.
Richard placed his hands on the podium, and began to speak.
“When matters of religion and government are the issue at hand, it is important to determine whether or not there is a violation of the separation of church and state. Of the First Amendment, there is the Establishment Clause (which prohibits the government from establishing a religion) and the Free Exercise Clause (which prohibits the government from interfering with a person’s right to worship). The ‘In God We Trust’ proposal does not seem to violate either of these; therefore there are no constitutional issues at hand.
“Despite this, however, I am of the opinion that approving the proposal would be wrong. My opposition does not originate from any constitutional issues, but from philosophical reasons. I believe there is a strong philosophical case to be made against the proposal.
“First, the phrase “In God We Trust” is terribly vague in two places: ‘God’ and ‘We.’ ‘In God We Trust’? Which god would that be? The Christian god? A Roman god, such as Zeus? A Hindu deity, such as Vishnu? The ‘God’ in question is not specified by the phrase proposed. However, it cannot be denied that what you mean by ‘God’ is the Christian god, as described in the Bible. Since this is so, it is not fair nor is it respectful of the religious beliefs of others that you have reserved this phrase for your Christian god. By posting this decidedly Christian phrase on City Hall, you would be disrespecting the beliefs of non-Christians by demonstrating that the Christian religion alone is welcome in the governing offices of Wasco. You will not have indicated otherwise by posting the proposed phrase. You are preferring one religion over another.
“In addition, ‘we,’ as it appears in the proposed phrase, is vague as well. Who precisely does ‘we’ incorporate? All people? The people of Wasco? All Christian people? You cannot expect ‘we’ to mean all people, for there does exist numerous non-Christians in this country, even perhaps in Wasco. These non-Christians include Deists, Buddhists, Wiccans, Muslims, and many other religions. Atheists are also excluded from the ‘we.’ By posting the proposed phrase, you are excluding non-Christians from your support. ‘We”the people’is invalid because not everyone places his or her ‘trust’ or beliefs in the Christian god.
“Secondly, the newspaper reports that city attorney John Beagles claimed that the phrase seems to be a patriotic gesture and not a religious one. However, it is without doubt that the phrase is indeed religious. The subject of the phrase is our supposed trust in ‘God”and god(s) are precisely a part of religion. Religion is defined as ‘a system of worship for gods or deities.’ Such a god is an important part of the proposed phrase, and therefore it is undeniably religious. Yet, lets assume that it is also a patriotic phrase. Does this mean that non-religious opinion is not patriotic? It is completely presumptuous to equate religiousness with patriotism. Non-Christians can hold as much patriotism for our country as you presume to do with the proposed phrase.
“Third, council member Carey Louis, who proposed the phrase, claimed that this country was ‘founded on Christian principles.’ On the contrary, many of our Founding Fathers, including Jefferson and Madison, were Deists, not Christians. They respected freedom of conscience, and thus they did not establish this country on any one religion. This is evident in the fact that our constitution is secular’the word ‘God’ is found nowhere in the amendments, articles, or the preamble. This does not mean that our government is atheistic’rather, it is secular, in that it does not deal any particular respect to one religion. It is neutral in religious matters. As a result, any religion is free to live in America without the worry of allegiance with the government. This is also why you should be neutral and vote against posting the proposed phrase.
“Fourth, Louis also claims that, despite the divisiveness of the proposal, the country was built on divisive issues. He uses slavery as an example. He claimed, ‘Segregation was divisive, but opposing it was the right thing to do.’ I concur; precisely the reason why posting ‘In God We Trust’ on City Hall is divisive, and opposing it is the right thing to do.
“Finally, other City Council members claimed that they did not expect substantial resistance to the installation of the phrase. This does not mean that it is appropriate to approve the proposal. Even if no one voiced against the installment, there are certainly those whose views are against it, including myself. We have already seen severl people speak out in opposition. This is why City Council should respectfully consider both sides in influencing their decision.
“It is not my intention to criticize anyone’s religious beliefs. I respect the sincerity of the opposing views regarding this issue. Even though I am myself an atheist, there are many religious people who would oppose the proposal. Many religious people have spoken out against the proposal. Both the religious and nonreligious alike have dissenters from the phrase. My being an atheist should have no relevance to the validity of the points I address. My arguments deserve as much consideration as those of a religious person.
“I hope you will consider the points I address. You may agree with them or disagree with them, and you may also agree with some points and not with others. Regardless, it is my suggestion that the arguments therein contained in this speech are discussed with the Council members before concluding upon a decision. Please, prove to the public that you respect religious diversity by disapproving the proposed phrase.”
Richard said a thank you, then went to sit down, thus allowing the next person to speak.
* * *
Hours later, Richard was sitting in his bedroom, reading a book he had recently purchased. Richard placed a bookmark between the pages he was reading and placed it on the adjacent dresser. It was eleven o’clock. Time for the evening news.
He was particularly interested in finding out whether or not the motto issue was voted on yet. Shortly after he gave his speech, he left to go home. But City Council was still busy addressing the issue. They would not vote on it until later on.
The face of the news anchor appeared again. First, the story about the local water supply problem was presented, then a story about a robbery that had occurred a couple of hours earlier downtown. After this, the story he was waiting for came.
Today, several dozen people turned out to speak in front of City Council to voice their opinoins on the proposal. After listening to many people, City Council has finally come to a decision. In a 5-2 vote, City Council has approved the proposal. The motto “In God We Trust” will be installed on City Hall next month…
Richard was at first disappointed to hear this, but he then realized it was not much of a suprise.
Oh well, he decided. It’s not like they’re demanding that I put the same words on my house, after all.
Richard shut off the TV and continued reading his book.
* * *
A week later. Richard sat at the table in his kitchen, drinking orange jice and reading the newspaper. It was seven in the morning, and he didn’t need to be at work until eight.
Richard flipped to the local section and read the opinon/editorial page. Located on this page was a collection of letters to the editor. Interesting was that they were all commenting on the recent decision over the proposal. The first one he read simply made his head shake left to right.
I’m glad Councilwoman Louis had the guts to come fourth with the proposal. It’s about time we put God back into our institutions. I can’t believe there was any opposition to the proposal in the first place. So what if the proposal offends people who don’t believe in God and others? This is one nation under God.
Richard read the next one. It was a little more interesting.
This city is intolerant. People like Councilwoman Louis want to impose their beliefs on other people. How would they like it if the motto said “In Allah We Trust?” Then Muslim beliefs would be imposed on them! But instead we have Christianity imposed on us. How nice.
Richard read one more.
It is absolutely ridiculous that people opposed the phrase. Hey, people! Look on your dollar bills and you will see the same motto. It’s there, so why shouldn’t we have it on City Hall?
Richard then folded the newspaper and placed it back on his table. He then finished the glass of orange juice. He should have sent a letter to the editor himself.
* * *
A month later, Richard was off work for his lunch hour. It was 1:00 and he was in the mood for a burger. He was driving along the street when he realized that City Hall was only two blocks away.
He deviated from his usual course to drive past City Hall, now that the motto had been installed.
As he passed by, he slighly slowed the velocity of his car. There it was: “In God We Trust.” The words sat on the wall above the entrance, beside a pillar. They were thick, bold, white words. At least they did a good job with the text.
Richard then sped up again. He really didn’t care about the issue anymore. Let them have their religious phrase. Besides, two days earlier he placed a sticker on his back bumper. It read, “No Gods, No Masters.”
At least he could erect some words of his own on his car.