During the August 21 Visalia City Council meeting, council members voted 4-1 against painting the motto “In God We Trust” above the city’s seal.
Councilmember Steve Nelsen, who requested the item be put on the agenda, was the only vote in favor.
Nelsen wanted to discuss the issue because he is heavily involved in his church.
He said that it has been the Nation’s motto since 1952, making “In God We Trust” not just a religious motto but a patriotic one.
He added that we are divided as a country because of labels but that we should all believe in the motto.
“This is who we are. This is our fabric,” he said.
Councilmember Bob Link, keeping his comments short, said, “I have a strong belief in God and use Him to make decisions. But we have a diverse community and this is a public building, so I do not think it is appropriate to write it on the wall.”
Councilmember Phil Cox was also succinct. “As a saved Christian Mormon man I do not need to have these words on the wall of our council chambers. I have them on the walls of my home and in my heart.”
Nelsen’s opinion was that, “If we have it on our hearts then let’s put it on our wall and share the motto of our country.”
Councilmember Greg Collins said that residents have approached the council to debate the city getting involved with issues such as creating a nuclear free zone or weigh-in on the issue of abortion, but the councils of the past have always resisted.
He said that debating the motto would take a lot of time effort and angst, “but at the end of the day is not a good use of our time.”
“These city chamber walls are for city business,” he said.
Mayor Warren Gubler said that “In God We Trust” is one of his favorite mottos and that he believes that Visalia is a religious city. But he added that we live in a pluralistic society and that he is not sure that all religions would be comfortable with it.
He noted that no one had approached him about the motto and didn’t think it was a pressing issue to the public. For that reason he was leaning against it.
Five members of the public spoke, all against putting the motto in the council chambers.
Carol Greening said that posting the motto ignores the fact that there are those who do not believe in God or use different terms such as Jehovah or Buddha.
She also took umbrage at Nelsen’s rationale that if “In God We Trust” is good enough to be on our currency then it is reasonable to put it on the chamber walls.
She asked that, if using the same reasoning, we should put a pyramid or the all-seeing eye on the chamber wall also.
Steve Pendleton said that he fears it’s just pressure coming from the “tyranny of the majority” and that scares him when taking into consideration the events of the last two weeks.
Nelsen also brought up the fact that the cities of Fresno and Tulare had recently approved of posting the motto.
Pendleton countered that he hardly considers the Tulare City Council as Christian and using them as an example was “hardly a good recommendation.”
Neither does he consider Fresno as a good example of Christianity after recently banning homeless camps without providing anywhere else for them to go.
Maile Melkonian asked the council how they would feel if ‘In Allah We Trust’ was written on the chamber’s wall.
“Would you feel comfortable? Would you feel welcome?,” she asked.
She said the E Pluribus Unum has been with us since the beginning of our founding and that In God We Trust came two hundred years later during the Civil War, then resurged during McCarthyism.
“It’s presumptive, exclusionary and divisive,” she said.
Nelsen did not agree and said that the motto is not a stop sign but means that all people are welcome and that history has shown that.
Renee Lapin reminded the council that the national organization pushing the motto had the ulterior motive of “turning every city red.”
“That’s their goal, to make everyone Republican,” she said.
“I wouldn’t come to the meetings anymore because I think it is un-American,” she said of the motto.
Nelsen later told ABC News that since the meeting he is encouraged by supportive e-mails he has received and looks forward to talking about adding the motto again in the future.
“Looking backwards, I think it was positive,” he said. “And I will continue to fight for it, and I will continue to march to do that,” he told the local news channel.