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Council approves In God We Trust
Constitution preamble to adorn public speakers lectern
The above artist's rendering shows how the preamble to the U. S. Constitution might look on the speaker's lectern at Turlock City Hall. - photo by Photo Contributed
The Turlock City Council approved plans late Tuesday evening to display the national motto “In God We Trust” and the preamble to the United States Constitution in Turlock City Hall, despite some legal concerns.
Plans to paint both phrases in City Hall were set in motion at the Sept. 22 council meeting, when television cameras and tens of Turlockers gathered to discuss the artwork. At that meeting, the council unanimously approved convening an ad-hoc arts sub-committee comprised of Mayor John Lazar, Councilman Kurt Spycher, and members of the Turlock City Arts Commission to research artistic alternatives to display both phrases in City Hall.
“As we met with the arts sub committee, the mayor and myself, I think we had some great ideas,” Spycher said.
As adopted by council Tuesday, the phrase “In God We Trust,” will be displayed in raised letters on the shorter east wall of the Turlock City Hall Yosemite Room, behind the councilmembers’ seats. White space will be left for a possible future mural, which could be funded by Councilwoman Mary Jackson.
Spycher initially brought forward the concept of painting “In God We Trust” in Turlock City Hall after a discussion with former Mayor of Turlock Curt Andre, who stated that it was the council’s intention to paint the national motto on that wall when designing the current Turlock City Hall. Spycher agreed to pay for the phrase’s installation to see the council’s vision come to fruition.
The council also approved moving forward with painting “We The People” in the Yosemite Room during their Sept. 22 meeting, but instead the sub committee brought up the idea of displaying the entire preamble to the United States Constitution on the public speakers’ lectern. Vice Mayor Ted Howze will fund that piece of art, which will replace the City of Turlock logo, as he agreed to on Sept. 22.
“I love it on the front of the lectern,” Howze said. “I think you guys did good work.”
While Jackson initially supported the plan to paint both phrases in City Hall — and ultimately voted for the project on Tuesday — she aired concerns that legal costs in defending the artwork could become burdensome. Jackson suggested retaining the services of a Constitutional law expert to ensure that the city was not liable in creating the artwork.
“Even if we are 100 percent right, and we are, I don’t want to be in the situation where we have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove it,” Jackson said.
According to City Attorney Phaedra Norton, the City of Turlock has not received any threats of legal action opposing the posting of “In God We Trust.”
The only letter received was from In God We Trust — America, a non-profit educational organization. The Pacific Justice Institute, an affiliated Sacramento-based non-profit legal defense organization, offered to defend the City of Turlock at no charge in both state and federal court, should any challenges arise.
Norton noted that “In God We Trust” has been accepted as the national motto, and that the phrase’s public display has been upheld in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to be purely patriotic or ceremonial, and to “bear no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious practice.” The City of Modesto, Bakersfield, and the United States Supreme Court all display the phrase.
“If it’s good enough for the United States Supreme Court…” Norton trailed off.
Unlike the first time the issue came before council, Tuesday’s meeting drew only two public speakers. Both questioned the wisdom of the plan.
“There’s a serious question of legality. If I remember correctly about the Constitution and the founding fathers, they clearly indicate there should be a separation between the church and the state,” Turlocker Pat Noda said.
Noda also noted his belief that the phrase could cause “ill will between various religious groups” in Turlock.
The second speaker, Turlocker David Burzota, questioned how the council could embrace Christian ideals when they had previously abandoned plans to build a homeless shelter.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based non-profit that sent a legal letter to the Turlock City Council which resulted in the elimination of prayer during council meetings, isn’t convinced that “In God We Trust” should be allowed in government buildings. The organization currently has a case in Wisconsin U.S. District Court, according to Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-president and Co-founder of FFRF, suing to stop the phrase from being engraved in the Washington, D.C. Capitol Visitor Center.
“What message is that? What possible purpose could that (In God We Trust) be but to send a message of exclusion to those who don’t believe?” Gaylor said in September.
In other news, the council unanimously approved putting the reconstruction of the Carnegie Arts Center back out to bid. Fifteen bids were previously received for the project on June 18, with Applegate Johnston of Modesto as the apparent low bidder at $5.3 million. City staff received four complaints regarding that proposal, suggesting it was not completed in accordance with certain aspects of the labor code, and council subsequently rejected all bids on Aug. 25.
The Turlock Poker Room was also granted rights to expand, and the Columbia Park Water Feature was approved for construction as well. For more news on Turlock City Council happenings, check the Saturday issue of the Turlock Journal.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.