I have certainly heard the lament of Christian leaders who assert that we are living in a “post-Christian” era. That may be. But what I am seeing is more “Christian-phobia” than anything suggesting Christian beliefs, morals, and values are obsolete. The latest installment comes from Pennsylvania.
Last Tuesday, Sept. 9, the Allegheny County Council voted 8-6 against a bill allowing the national motto “In God We Trust” to be displayed in its chambers. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald wrote to council members prior to the vote, threatening to veto the bill should it pass.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made a point to identify the parties of the councilpersons, so I do so only as information. Five Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bill.
Three of the Democrats voting against the bill commented about it. Although Councilman Jim Ellenbogen (D-Banksville) calls himself a “person of strong faith,” he said that placing the national motto in the courthouse “does nothing to make us a better council.” Likewise, Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko (D-Regent Square) was quoted as saying simply, “We shouldn’t do this (post the national motto).” Even Councilman Charles Martoni (D-Swissvale), who actually co-sponsored the bill, ended up voting against it, saying, “The more I looked at it, it’s unnecessary.”
Unnecessary? What does that mean? Many things are “unnecessary” to say, in that we accept them. But these “unnecessary” statements are also often the things in our life that are most meaningful and important, and are therefore precisely the things we must say!
But perhaps the most disturbing of all quotes came from Fitzgerald himself. He called the bill “a movement by the right-wing evangelical Christians across the country basically to impose Christianity” in public buildings. Say what?
The motto “In God We Trust” became the national motto in 1956 after a law was passed by Congress and approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. How exactly does this phrase impose Christianity? It doesn’t, that’s how.
What the phrase does do is this: It identifies a supreme being as one with ultimate authority and power, and in whom we as humans ought to place our trust. I can see how an atheist may not want to affirm it, but how is this Bible-thumping or strong-arming people to accept Christianity?
After the vote, Fitzgerald issued this statement, “This vote makes it clear that all people, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or belief system, are welcome here.” So, if “In God We Trust” were placed in the county courthouse, then that would somehow mean certain people are not welcome in the county? Seriously?
Let’s be honest and clear about this. “In God We Trust” doesn’t represent any specific religion. In that regard, it is truly an American value.
And it is with this in mind, that even our president ended his speech the other night with, “May God bless our troops, and may God bless America.” Should he retract that? Does this statement — a common closing to speeches by American presidents — mean certain people are not welcome in the United States? Of course not.
This issue is nothing more than Christian-phobia, with paranoid tendencies. And it is a reflection of people who are confused about what the First Amendment to the Constitution actually says. The First Amendment affirms that there will be no state church. It does not guarantee freedom from religion; it guarantees freedom of religion. There is a difference.
I suppose the good news for the six councilpersons voting for the measure is that at least they will save money this year on Mr. Fitzgerald’s pay. I am sure he would not be so hypocritical as to accept pay from the county as such a check represents paper money with the wording “In God We Trust” imprinted on it.
So, if you ever wondered whether it really mattered who we elect as county officials in Effingham, here’s exhibit No. 1.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.