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In God Turlock trusts

POSTED December 8, 2009 10:28 p.m.
If anyone still believes that nothing big ever happens in Turlock, then they haven’t been to a city council meeting in a long, long time. Although Turlock can only be considered a small city or big town in population terms, it often has big city political issues.
In 2004, the Turlock City Council fearlessly took on big business  — and won — in their fight to prevent a Super Walmart from coming to town. A few years later, Turlock was once again making news, this time in connection with possible Brown Act violations in the appointment of Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher. And just last year, the city council campaign trail got nasty with illegal robocalls made all over town.
Just when you thought the city council might want to tackle a relatively easy issue, like finally fixing the pot holes on Canal Drive, they decide to paint “In God We Trust” on a City Hall wall.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the City of Turlock — and most cities around the nation right now — needs all the help it can get. If painting a motto on the wall helps the council and those who come before it remember our nation’s history and the founding fathers’ faith in a higher being, then do it. I just wonder if right now Constitutional law ambulance chasers are looking at places to rent in Turlock.
Just like with the Walmart lawsuit, however, I believe Turlock would prevail in an “In God We Trust” cage battle with the ACLU or any local atheist that takes issue.
After doing a little research I found that the U.S. Government, and particularly the Supreme Court, has decided that “In God We Trust” is no more religious than saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. The Supreme Court also recognizes that the division between Church and State is very specific and does not include legislative prayers or national mottos.
In Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952), the court found:
    The First Amendment, however, does not say that, in every and all
    respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it
    studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be
    no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the
    common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be
    aliens to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Churches
    could not be required to pay even property taxes. Municipalities would
    not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups.
    Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would
    violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to
    the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations
    making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God" in our courtroom
    oaths — these and all other references to the Almighty that run
    through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting
    the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object
    to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save
    the United States and this Honorable Court."
In fact, in Zorach v. Clauson the court actually said, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” That seems pretty straight forward to me.
So, as a journalist, I will savor this new controversial happening at City Hall and look forward to the next. Who knows, Turlock could be the first California town to legalize bullfighting.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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