In George We Trust.....not!
Republicans Push For `In God We Trust' Banners In Libraries
By JULIA FERRANTE firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Jan 22, 2005
NEW PORT RICHEY - Dollar bills and many Pasco County government buildings bear the motto ``In God We Trust.''
Pasco Republican leader Bill Bunting and other party loyalists want to extend the message to public libraries.
Bunting recently asked county commissioners to hang banners with the inscription ``In God We Trust,'' along with American flags, in public meeting rooms at the county's seven libraries.
``It's very simple. It's not political. It involves all parties,'' Bunting said this week. ``This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. If you're an atheist, and you don't like it, you can put a banner over it and take [the banner] down when you leave.''
The late Joe Herrmann, a San Antonio activist, approached the county commission three years ago about posting ``In God We Trust'' plaques in public buildings and donated about 30 of them, commission Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said. County Attorney Robert Sumner said at the time that he saw no legal reason to prohibit the signs because they did not refer to a specific God, so commissioners endorsed them.
The signs, some of which were donated by another resident, were posted in government buildings and elderly nutrition sites, but they never made it to libraries, Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson said. American flags were displayed in portable stands in some library conference rooms, but children often knocked them down, so the flags were stored in closets, where they have stayed.
Bunting has recruited state Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, to buy new American flags for the county's public libraries. Bilirakis said he supported Bunting's efforts to hang ``In God We Trust'' banners or plaques.
``We have it on our currency, and our country was founded under God,'' said Bilirakis, who is Greek Orthodox. ``People have other beliefs, and we should respect that, but our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, and I don't think we should get away from that.''
Bunting takes the argument a step further.
``We're getting a little tired of our country chipping away at our rights,'' he said. ``Us Republicans feel very strongly about that, and that was a big issue in the [presidential] campaign. If you have an objection to it, just ignore it. If you think it's terrible, don't go into that building.''
Legality Is Undetermined
County Administrator John Gallagher at a recent county commission meeting told Bunting he would hang the ``In God We Trust'' banners in the libraries, but this week he said he's unsure whether the signs are legal. Commissioner Ted Schrader endorsed the idea at the meeting, and none of the other four commissioners raised objections.
Mulieri and Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said they were under the impression the signs are allowed because neither Gallagher nor Sumner advised the board to reject the signs when Bunting raised the issue.
``We did not say `no,' but I guess I'd assume if Mr. Sumner or Mr. Gallagher have a problem with it, they will come back before us,'' Hildebrand said.
Chief Assistant County Attorney Barbara Wilhite said Thursday that her office had not researched the issue, and would not offer an opinion unless asked.
``We haven't been asked to research it. We haven't evaluated it. We are not going to research or evaluate it unless John Gallagher or the county commissioners ask us to,'' Wilhite said.
Gallagher later said he would ask the county attorney's office for an opinion.
``I don't know whether they are legal or not,'' Gallagher said. ``I'll ask them to look into it. This is on our dollar bill. I'm getting [federal] mandates saying I have to give a share of grant money to faith-based organizations. I think the issue of separation of church and state may be getting cloudy.''
Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson said his department operates under the policy that ``In God We Trust'' signs are legal in public buildings.
``We have gotten legal advice that the courts have ruled on this, and it is acceptable,'' Johnson said.
The issue rings similar to a debate about Christmas trees, which Gallagher and Johnson temporarily outlawed at public buildings in December after the county attorney's office said religious displays could expose the county to legal problems. The opinion, given after a Jewish man questioned the policy and was told he could not display a menorah in front of a library, said displays could cause problems if they are accompanied by negative opinions regarding religion, religious holidays or obscene symbols.
The county attorney's office later clarified the opinion, saying Christmas trees decorated in garland, snowflakes, Santas and even menorahs may be displayed at Pasco County government buildings, as long as they are accompanied by a patriotic message. The opinion is based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Christmas trees without nativity scenes or religious ornaments are nonreligious symbols and therefore may be displayed at county property. A menorah with a Christmas tree also is not considered religious, but it, too, must be displayed with a ``salute to liberty.''
A long-standing county policy allows various holiday displays at public buildings.
Reporter Julia Ferrante can be reached at (813) 948-4220
Who wants the days of the Spanish Inquisition, where the Pope or Christian king could lead wars against heathens?