Fresno Puts “In God We Trust” in City Council Chamber

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Here is a taste of a piece from the Fresno Bee:

Fresno is the latest – and largest – city in California to give God a prominent place in its City Hall, as the City Council unanimously approved a resolution to add the national motto “In God We Trust” to the wall behind the dais in the council chamber.

The vote was 6-0 Thursday, with Councilmember Oliver Baines absent.

Council members took up a proposal by District 6 Councilman Garry Bredefeld, who said he was inspired by a national movement begun in 2002 by Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan. She appeared before the council to seek its backing for Bredefeld’s measure.

In Fresno County, the cities of Fowler, Huron, Kerman, Orange Cove, Reedley, Sanger and Selma are among more than 130 cities and county governments that have voted to include the motto in their chambers. Nationally, about 650 cities and counties have done the same.

Bredefeld said his proposal “is not about choosing one religion over another; I would never support that.” But, he added, “because there is a vocal minority that wants to take God out of our beliefs, we shouldn’t be silent about that.  For too long, a silent majority has allowed a vocal minority to silence them.”

The overflow crowd of several hundred people jammed into both the lower and upper levels of the council chamber for the debate. Dozens carried signs of support for the proposal by Bredefeld; others wore T-shirts with the motto printed on them. Most of those in the audience favored the motto, but there were some opposed to putting the phrase in the government chamber.

Among those who spoke in support was former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry. He reminded the council how trust in God was a benchmark for American leaders through the nation’s history. “A reliance upon God was in our founding documents,” Autry said, referring to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. “Right now this country is the most divided it’s been in my lifetime. You have an opportunity to make ‘In God We Trust not a divisive thing, but a unifying thing.”

Mayor Alan Autry’s comments play fast and loose with the historical record and do an awful job of using the past to help us move forward in the present.  While the Declaration of Independence does mention God, the United States Constitution does not.  Moreover, the founders rarely spoke with one voice on the place of religion in public life. Finally, do the leaders of Fresno know that the phrase “In God We Trust” emerged out a particular historical context in the Civil War and then again during the Cold War?

Do the people of Fresno really believe that they will bring unity to their city by merely posting the words “In God We Trust” on the wall of the council chamber?  These words are not magic.  They are not a replacement for the hard work of promoting unity amid growing diversity.  Unity demands empathy for others and finding common ground with people who hold different views.  This resolution will no doubt bring even more division to the city.

And do the Christians of Fresno who are in favor of this resolution really believe that somehow their Gospel witness or their work in advancing the Kingdom of God will be more effective now that the phrase “In God We Trust” appears in the council chamber?

It seems that all the time fighting over this resolution would have been better spent doing something that will really bring unity to the city or really advance the cause of Christianity in the city of Fresno.

One thought on “Fresno Puts “In God We Trust” in City Council Chamber

  1. Maybe they could also add “E pluribus unum?”

    Seriously, though, as long as “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the country, I feel that it’s uncontroversial to emblazon it all over government property.

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