(Photo: Courtesy of Carole Stangle, communications specialist for the city of St. Peters, Mo.)
City buildings in St. Peters, Mo., will begin displaying the national motto "In God We Trust" in April – a decision alarming to atheists who believe the motto is unconstitutional.
Inspired by similar efforts throughout the nation, St. Peters, Mo., Mayor Len Pagano and members of the Board of Aldermen had voted (five voting yes and three absent) on Jan. 10 to approve the display.
"When I heard this idea at the National League of Cities conference, I thought what a great way of showing patriotism," Pagano said. "I have found that it's something the community at large thinks is the right thing to do, and we are leading the way by being the first city in St. Charles County to display 'In God We Trust' in city buildings."
On March 12, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter to Pagano and the Board of Aldermen asking them to honor the "constitutional principle of separation between church and state," and to reconsider their decision to display In God We Trust in five city buildings, including St. Peters City Hall, the aldermanic chambers in the city's justice center and the municipal courtroom.
Dan Barker, co-president of the Wisconsin-based FFRF, a nonprofit organization that represents atheists and agnostics, told The Christian Post that his organization sent out 2,500 letters last year challenging the display of religious messages on city property.
"What is their intent," asked Barker, who believes St. Peters' mayor must have a religious agenda behind his actions. "Because of all the things that the city has to do, why would they do that?"
In Barker's opinion, the city can recognize that religion is part of people's lives in the community, but he also believes it has no place in city business.
Barker said that lawsuits challenging the use of the motto In God We Trust on city properties have increased in number in recent years. Although his group cannot litigate every case, Barker said they could file a complaint against the city of St. Peters, but instead they're waiting to receive a response from Pagano's office.
On Feb. 1, FFRF filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York claiming the motto In God We Trust violates the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
In the letter to Pagano from Annie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, she claims: "Statements about a god have no place in government buildings. Elected officials should not use their government position and government buildings as a place for promoting their religious views."
She continues, "More than 638,000 Missouri adults identify as non-religious (American Religious Identification Survey 2008). Aldermen are elected to represent all residents of St. Peters, including those that do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods."
"Additionally, it does not inspire confidence that city officials apparently feel 'In God We Trust' must be displayed at the municipal courthouse and in the Board of Aldermen meeting room in order for you to make the right civic decisions."
"The history of the motto, 'In God We Trust' evidences no secular purpose; on the contrary, the motto was first adopted during the Cold War as a reaction to the purported 'godlessness' of Communism. America's original motto was purely secular, i.e., 'E Pluribus Unum' ('out of many, one'), which was selected by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin."
According to In God We Trust – America, the national motto is displayed in over 300 cities. The national movement, founded by Bakersfield City Councilmember Jacquie Sullivan, aims to get the motto in as many cities throughout America as possible.