A few weeks ago, I posted about how the members of the Ballwin Board of Aldermen in Missouri were thinking about putting up “In God We Trust” displays on all city-owned buildings. The Holy Infant Knights of Columbus had pledged $750 to make that happen.
During the “Citizen Comments” portion of the Board’s meeting last night, atheist Nikki Moungo felt compelled to speak. She didn’t have much prepared — just a few notes — but her off-the-cuff, impassioned plea for the aldermen to reconsider the idea was absolutely incredible to watch. The transcript is below. (You may need to turn up the volume on the video. I promise you it’s worth it.)
Moungo outed herself as an atheist to the crowd before explaining why she was fighting this battle on behalf of her children. And there was even a surprise at the end of her impromptu speech.
I guess, first off, I’d like to say you’re all looking at an atheist. This is what an atheist looks like. I don’t eat babies. I don’t drink blood. My children are being raised as Naturalists. We look to science, reason — my son was scouted by Caltech.
I want to let you know that I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution. I was raised on history by grandparent teachers who taught for over 40 years. I had it beat into me what this country was built on, what it was for. During the Cold War, my grandfather was a science teacher in junior high. At that point in time, when the U.S. government changed the Pledge of the United States and put in “In God We Trust,” my grandfather would stand every day with his class, but he wouldn’t recite. He was the treasurer of his Baptist church. He thought that this was wrong then. And I know he would say, Mr. [Joe] Strange [of the Knights of Columbus], his suggestion, is wrong now. And Mr. Strange’s argument that “In God We Trust” is already on our money is a logical fallacy. I would direct you to Appeal [to] Tradition. Two wrongs are not going to make a right…
This sign that’s behind you guys — Ballwin: Bringing People Together… The idea of putting signs like this [“In God We Trust”] in city government buildings is not going to bring Ballwin together. This is going to create more exclusivity, not including all of the citizens.
I have an interracial family. We have many people of different beliefs. We have gay and lesbian relatives. We all get together and there’s no problem because we’ve all accepted and embraced our diversity. Such a sign… that I would have to come here for court and have my children look at when they’ve been raised that we’re all equal… in the eyes of the government? [The “In God We Trust” sign is] not teaching them the values that they were raised with.
In light of what happened in Ferguson, I think it’s very important for city officials to look at the diversity that exists in the communities and have respect for them, for all the citizens. We have friends and neighbors that are Muslim. We have friends and neighbors that are Jewish. Unless you’re going to put up signs that endorse Allah and Buddha and everybody, it’s not being inclusive. It’s hurting the residents. And it’s only going to help one particular subset of residents. That is exclusionary practice when I believe inclusivity is the key. What happened in Ferguson, this was a diversity problem that had not been recognized. Doing something like this is going to create a problem where, right now, none exists… so to me, it’s inviting trouble. It’s asking for exclusionary conflict. And I can’t embody that.
I have children who were born and raised here, and I always told them this is a great town. If you want to make changes, you go down and you tell your local government. You vote. So that’s why they’re here with me today… Because they need to see, they need to know, that they have a voice… I’m sorry, this is just very emotional for me…
I would like to pledge a check for $1,000 to the city of Ballwin, that instead of erecting a sign, anywhere, about “In God We Trust,” I would like to use the original motto, E pluribus unum, before it was perverted during the Cold War.
… I hope you guys accept this. It’s right here. If you want to put up “E pluribus unum,” you got my money. If you want to put up “In God We Trust,” then it will be a fight I’m ready to take on. I know it’s lost everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that I will not not fight it. This is my kids’ lives. This is their town. And they deserve to be included as much as Christian children do…
[Pointing at herself] This is an atheist. I’m a nice person. I do charity work. I work downtown… I don’t judge people. I accept everyone. I’m tolerant. And I’d like to see the Ballwin city government exercise tolerance as well.
She wasn’t kidding about that check either. The one she’s holding up in the video isn’t a prop. (Take that, Knights of Columbus!)
I will say that the Ferguson analogy isn’t really the best fit, and “E pluribus unum” wasn’t actually our country’s official motto, but nitpicking those things is sidestepping the point. We’re so used to hearing atheists make scripted speeches in front of government officials — usually with secular invocations — that this is a breath of fresh air. For me, it’s much more powerful.
The Aldermen haven’t voted on the displays yet. But when they eventually get around to it, I hope they remember Nikki’s speech and reject the Christian signs altogether.