Remember how 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.
A couple of weeks ago, at a Board meeting, atheist Nikki Moungo urged the aldermen to reconsider the idea with an impassioned speech. At the end of it, she even offered to give the alderman $1,000 if they’d put up signs reading “E pluribus unum” instead.
Last night, at the Board of Aldermen Meeting, Moungo was there once again to make sure they did the right thing. (There were even members of the St. Charles Community College Secular Student Alliance there to back her up!)
And, as expected, Moungo’s speech was fantastic:
Please forgive me if I run over time. I have several emails from Ballwin residents that are afraid to be here to speak out for obvious reasons. So I will be speaking on behalf of those [people].
Good evening, Mr. Mayor, Aldermen/women, fellow citizens:
Tonight I’m not going to tell you more about being an atheist, about Secular Humanism, or why I feel these displays are unnecessary, even detrimental to our community.
Tonight I’d rather discuss the intent behind the Knights of Columbus (KoC) proposal. In West Newsmagazine, Mr. Strange of the KoC stated these displays are “an appropriate way to promote patriotism.” I beg to question the primary objective behind their proposal.
As a taxpaying citizen, I voraciously question the integrity of aldermen taking money from a religious organization in order to display their religious advertisement in a taxpayer owned building.
If the mayor or aldermen are members of the Holy Infant Church, perhaps they should abstain themselves from this vote, as it indicates a clear bias.
However, if this tax-exempt religious organization succeeds in paying city officials to advertise their religious message on taxpayer property, it must be allowed for tax-paying citizens to also have their various, religious or non, advertisements placed upon these hallowed walls.
If this proposal passes, the aldermen need to bring in their own tools and pry the existing city motto off the wall. An “In God We Trust” plaque underneath “Ballwin: Bringing People Together” — is an unscrupulous lie. “We” implies all, and “we” simply do not all trust in God. Some trust in completely different gods and goddesses altogether. Again, “From many: One.”
Since last I spoke here, a death threat has been made and many prayers have been given in my name, but I’ve also received surprising messages of support from citizens of Ballwin. On their behalf, please don’t speak for the many Ballwin citizens of non-belief, or whom pray to a non-Christian god. They wanted to be here tonight, to speak out, but these citizens fear for their jobs, their families, and their lives; with good reason.
These are the people who live next door to you, all of you; they are your children’s teachers, your trusted physician, your firefighters, EMS, veterans and soldiers, and, yes, local law enforcement. “We” are many. “We” are diverse.
Interestingly, I have received support from members of the Holy Infant church, who are also afraid to speak out; may you know them when their tithes begin to wither.
Let’s “patriotize” our community, but not with the use of empty, patronizing, religious slogans. If the City of Ballwin is truly interested in promoting patriotism, I propose creating a “Citizens for a Better Ballwin” community program to honor citizens for their good works. What embodies patriotism, the desire to improve your community, more than the giving of yourself to that community? Isn’t that what being a patriot is all about?
Religion does not a patriot make. I will forward this proposal to your respective emails later for your review and consideration.
I would also strongly encourage the city to host an annual “Cultural Days” festival to encourage awareness of the diversity that exists in Ballwin, which is currently being summarily ignored.
I ask you, where was Ballwin’s sense of community when, in 2012, my 18-year-old neighbor, Matthew Pelligrini, was brutally murdered in Clifton Heights? Why didn’t the Ballwin Christian community or KoC come out in support of a murdered boy and his grieving Christian family who’ve lived here since 2002? Where were the city officials? Ballwin, we really need to work on “Bringing People Together,” and a silly plaque is not going to accomplish this feat.
Know that I support the right of Ballwin citizens to display religious decorative items on their personal property, such as Lewis Greenberg’s Holocaust art display. The city was reported as spending in excess of $80,000 on attempting to stop Mr. Greenberg from exercising his First Amendment Rights. I would further the argument that the allowance of an “In God We Trust” display in city buildings, while pursuing Mr. Greenberg, indicates the cities desire to promote only a monotheistic Christian god.
Alderman Terbrock indicated to a Ballwin resident in an email that it didn’t matter that people from outside of Ballwin opposed the signs. I would caution him that, indeed, it does matter. These are the people who see Ballwin on top lists of great, safe places to live. This proposal and ensuing debate will tell potential business owners and residents that their taxpaying monies are not welcome here unless they subscribe to a Christian or Catholic supernatural deity.
It would be wise to remember that the Department of Justice is coming to St. Louis County to investigate the civil rights abuses after the travesty in Ferguson; so please keep our diversity in mind and choose not to abuse our First Amendment rights.
In closing, Thomas Paine once proudly proclaimed, “Independence is my happiness, the world is my country, and my religion is to do good.”
If I could state it any better myself, I would.
Thank you all for your time and consideration.
Wow… you could tell how much confidence she gained since her last speech.
And the best part? It worked!
The aldermen voted 6-2 against putting up the “In God We Trust” signs.
Speaking out at local meetings: It works. Moungo set the bar yet again for how to be assertive and personal when demanding inclusivity over Christian privilege. That’s how you do it.
(Portions of this article were posted earlier)