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In God we trust?

City Hall wall could feature controversial phrase

POSTED September 8, 2009 10:39 p.m.
The Yosemite Room at Turlock City Hall, home to Turlock City Council meetings, could soon feature the words, “In God we trust,” emblazoned on the wall behind where council members sit.
Turlock City Councilman Kurt Spycher announced a plan to paint the phrase — which is the official motto of the United States — on the white wall behind the dais during the “Council items for future consideration” portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
According to Spycher, the notion came up during a discussion with former Mayor of Turlock Curt Andre, who stated that it was the Council’s intention to paint “In God we trust” on that wall when designing the current Turlock City Hall.
Andre confirmed the conversation and recalled that a majority of City Council members, when the City Hall was being planned, had embraced the idea.
“It’s true when the City Hall was built the unofficial intent … was to fill that blank wall with something that embraced the values of this community,” Andre said. “Our feeling was that if it’s good enough for our currency and for the grand halls in Washington, it’s good enough for Turlock.”
The motto was never painted upon completion of the building “purely due to budgetary concerns,” according to Andre. In this current effort, Spycher and Andre have agreed to personally split whatever costs may be incurred in painting the phrase.
“To me it’s an important thing,” Andre said. “Turlock is a blessed community.”
Spycher also stated that Turlock City Arts Commission members had already volunteered to perform the work.
The formal discussion of adding “In God we trust” to Turlock City Hall is expected to take place at the next Turlock City Council meeting on Sept. 22, when the Council will also discuss their policy to hold prayer before council meetings.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation drafted a legal letter to the City of Turlock in August directing the City to cease holding religious invocations at the commencement of Council meetings. The FFRF noted that the Turlock Council invocations are, “rarely, if ever, non-denominational,” as each prayer they reviewed ended with the phrase, “In Jesus’ name.”
Rebecca Kratz, FFRF staff attorney, argues in the letter that, “the prayerful practice at council meetings runs afoul of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because it impermissibly advances Christianity.” She also states that the invocation “alienates any non-Christians and nonbelievers,” turning them to “political outsiders of their own community and government.”
In response to the letter, the Turlock City Council has temporarily discontinued the practice and held informal invocations prior to the official commencement of meetings for the past two sessions of Council.
City Attorney Phaedra Norton has reviewed the legal complaint, and is working on a revised invocation policy for the Council to consider on Sept. 22.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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