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Politics & Government

County Council Votes Against Displaying 'In God We Trust' in Council Chambers

Flickr user Kevin Dooley

Despite an impassioned speech from Republican Allegheny County Councilwoman Sue Means, an initiative to place the words “In God We Trust” above the Bill of Rights in Council Chambers failed Tuesday night.

Six members of Council voted for the bill, while eight voted against it. A bill needs eight affirmative votes to pass.

Prior to the meeting, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald had sent a letter to the council saying he would veto the bill if it passed. Fitzgerald said council members should be focused on the economy, the environment and other issues, and that pursuing such legislation is not a good use of their time. He also said he was concerned that it would open the county up to a lawsuit and that it would make atheists and people of non-Christian faiths feel unwelcome.

“Once we impose (religion) on people in the public square, it takes on a different tone,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to be inclusive and welcome people, and this sends the wrong signal.”

Means called that argument “ridiculous and absurd,” saying that the motto does not invoke a particular religion but is instead meant to inclusive. Furthermore, she said two legal groups had already stepped forward offering pro-bono legal representation should the county face a lawsuit related to the motto.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
The bill was introduced by Allegheny County Councilwoman Sue Means, a Republican from Bethel Park.

The ratio of public commenters who spoke about the resolution was on par with council’s vote: four people spoke in favor of displaying the motto, while six spoke against it.

Several speakers opposing the bill said that, although “In God We Trust” officially became the national motto in 1956, an earlier motto would be more appropriate for council chambers.

“E pluribus unum,” said Marcia Bandes of Squirrel Hill, a self-identified atheist who spoke against the bill. “Teach children what that means. Teach them about civic duty, giving back to the community and being an engaged citizen.”

Audrey Glickman of Greenfield said that, as a Jew, her religion prohibits displaying the name of God in such a manner.

“As it says in Matthew 6:1, we should not be broadcasting our piety,” Glickman sad. “It’s against my religion to take God’s name in vain. Maybe it’s against yours too.”

However, Andy Dlinn of Squirrel Hill said, as an Orthodox Jewish person, he was in favor of displaying the motto.

“Not only does this not offend me, but the American value of trusting in God has allowed Jewish people the greatest freedom to worship as we please,” Dlinn said.

Those who joined Means to vote in favor of the measure were Republicans Tom Baker, Heather Heidelbaugh, Jan Rea, and Ed Kress and Democrat William Robinson. Democrat John Palmiere was absent from the meeting; the remainder of council members are Democrats who voted against the bill.