BULLHEAD CITY — The Bullhead City Council’s unanimous decision this week to add a display of the national motto “In God We Trust” inside the council chamber was of little surprise to many.
A resolution supporting the addition to the chamber was written and a long list of locations where such signage already exists in the United States was among items in the staff report given to council members.
Several residents spoke to the council about the proposal originally made in March by William and Leah Coulter from Amazing Grace Fellowship in Fort Mohave. The Coulters are the local representatives of the group In God We Trust America, Inc.
Some of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern about the display not being in line with the First Amendment’s establishment clause in the United States Constitution.
It’s referred to as the part of the constitution that allows for the separation of church and state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...”
“What would stop the Church of Satan from asking for ‘In Satan We Trust’?” said Steven Lee. “Separation of church and state actually protects us. ... The risk outweighs a reward.”
Others thought it would be a good thing.
The phrase, said Barbara Pape, “gives us a discipline to abide by.”
And Gene Quitmeyer described the proposal as a way to demonstrate “integrity
“E Pluribus Unum” was the country’s unofficial motto, first used in the initial 1776 design of the Great Seal of the United States. This Latin phrase means “Out of many, one.”
In God We Trust was adopted as the United States motto in 1956 during the Cold War. It was first included on U.S. currency during the Civil War and has been on the nation’s paper currency since 1957.
The motto was reaffirmed in 2011 by Congress.
Court challenges to use of In God We Trust on U.S. currency have been unsuccessful. Governments need to ensure they aren’t favoring one religion over the other when they allow such expressions, however.
The report compiled by staff for the council members included information from Jacquie Sullivan, a member of the Bakersfield, California, City Council, who also organized the nonprofit the Coulters represent. Its focus is on having the motto in every city and county government chamber in the United States.
Sullivan pointed out that Bullhead City Council would be the first of these buildings in Arizona to display the motto.
The Coulters asked for multiple displays of the motto. Sullivan said one in the council chamber would be sufficient, according to City Manager Toby Cotter.
The Coulters also asked Colorado River Schools to display the motto late last year. Most of these displays were up in school district buildings before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered school campuses be closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to school district staff.
William Coulter, a retired pastor, told the council members the speakers against the proposal were wrong about it being “a religious statement.”
“It’s our national motto,” Coulter said.
The council chamber display will be located above the mural that overlooks the council members’ seats.
The staff report also stated that the council chamber display will be paid for by an anonymous donor.
In God We Trust America, Inc., is not affiliated with the controversial Scottsdale-based group that raises funds through the sale of Arizona vehicle license plates that have the nation’s motto on them. Alliance Defending Freedom was determined to be a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its involvement with legal actions against gay rights and reproductive rights that have purported to protect religious freedom.