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Ohio's Motto Doesn't Violate 1st Amendment, Court Rules

March 17, 2001|From Reuters

CINCINNATI — Ohio's state motto, "With God all things are possible," is not all that different from the words on U.S. currency and does not advocate Christianity, a divided federal appeals court ruled in a case that involved interpreting the Constitution's 1st Amendment.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, with nine of its 13 judges siding with the majority, declared Friday in a lengthy opinion that the state motto, much like "In God we trust" printed on U.S. currency, does not favor one religion over another.

"Like the national motto, and the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance, the Ohio motto is a symbol of a common identity. Such symbols unquestionably serve an important secular purpose--reinforcing the citizen's sense of membership in an identifiable state or nation," Judge David Nelson wrote for the majority.

But dissenting Judge Gilbert Merritt wrote that Ohio's motto "conveys a sectarian view of God as interventionist, active and omnipotent" that differs from the "God" on U.S. currency that "may be drawn from any of the gods of the world's vast pantheon of divinity."

The full court ruled against a lawsuit brought against the state government by a Presbyterian minister, who argued the motto trivialized his beliefs, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. It also overturned a previous decision by a divided three-judge panel of the appeals court's own judges.

Adopted by the Ohio Legislature in 1959, the motto was proposed by a Cincinnati schoolboy who adopted the phrase from a New Testament passage, Matthew 19:26, in which Jesus, discussing the prospect of the rich attaining salvation, says, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."

In his dissent, Merritt argued the motto violated the U.S. Constitution's 1st Amendment, which has been interpreted as forbidding prayer in public schools, religious creches in public squares, using public funds to support religious schools and other "similar efforts to advance Christianity."

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